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Spring 2005 



Mind's Eye 

A Liberal Arts Journal Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts 



Hawthorne and the Daguerreotype — Portraits Gleaned from the Sun 

By Annie Raskin 

The Gospel of Martin: King's Messianic Faith 

By Stewart Burns 
Poetry 

By Howard Nelson, Nick Fleck and Jeff McRae 

Lost in a Mirror: Dialogue with a Radical CsnstfwMmt 

By David Kenneth Johnson 

Sartre and The Sopranos: Italian-American 

Identity in the Media and Real Life 

By Sherilyn Saporito 

Call Me Moby 

By Matthew R. Silliman 



Mind's Eye 

A Liberal Arts Journal 



SPRING 2005 



Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts 



Editorial Board 

Bill Montgomery, Managing Editor 
Robert Bence 
Bob Bishoff 
Harold Brotzman 
Sumi Colligarr 
Abbot Cutler 
Tony Gengarelly 
Steve Green 
Leon Peters 
Graziaria Kamsden 
Arlene Bouras, Copy Editor 

Advisory Board 

James MacGregor Burns, Professor of history and political science, 
University of Maryland 
Stephen Fix, Professor of English, Williams College 
Thomas Green, Professor of law and history. University of Michigan 
Mary Huber, Carnegie Foundation scholar 
Lea Newman, Professor of English ementa, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts 
Joseph Thompson, Director of MASS MoCA 

© 2005 The Mind's Eye 
ISSN 1098-0512 

http: / /www. mcla .mass.edu/Publitations/ 
Faculty_Publications/The_Minds_Eyc_spr 

The Mind's Rye, a journal of scholarly and creative work, is published annu- 
ally by Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. While emphasizing articles of 
scholarly merit, The Mind's Eye focuses on a general communication of ideas of 
interest to a liberal arts college. We welcome expository essays, including re- 
views, as well as fiction, poetry and art. Please refer to the inside back cover 
for a list of writer's guidelines. 

A yearly subscription to The Mind's Eye is $7.50. Send check or money or- 
der to The Mind's Eye, CIO Bill Montgomery, Massachusetts College of Liberal 
Arts, 375 Church Street, North Adams, MA 01247. 



Mind's Eye 



SPRING 2005 



Editor s File 4 

Hawthorne and the Daguerreotype— Portraits 
Gleaned from the Sun 

By Annie Raskin 5 

The Gospel of Martin: King's Messianic Faith 

By Stewart Burns 16 

Poetry 

By Howard Nelson 26 

By Nick Fleck 28 

By Jeff McRae 29 

Lost in a Mirror: Dialogue with a Radical Constructivist 
By David Kenneth Johnson 30 

Sartre and The Sopranos: Italian-American 
Identity in the Media and Real Life 

By Sherilyn Saporito 47 



Call Me Moby 

By Matthew R. Silliman 



60 



Editor's File 



In this issue we are fortunate to include two pairs of essays, each 
with a strikingly different perspective. In our first essay, Annie 
Raskin introduces us to the daguerreotype in the work of 
Hawthorne, while in our last essay Sherilyn Saporito takes up images 
of Italian-Americans in film and television. The contrast between the 
two is significant. Hawthorne, writing before the Civil War, encouraged 
his readers to imagine that the daguerreotype provided an insight 
into character, but Saporito shuws that modern film and television 
images of Italian-Americans frequently distort and defame. In our 
second essay, Stewart Burns reflects on the importance of religious 
faith in the heroic life of Martin Luther King, Jr. He fastens on King's 
tin doctrinaire idea of "soul force" as a power capable of bringing justice 
to human beings, joining both black and white Americans in a more 
perfect union. At the same time, David Johnson presents himself as a 
participant in an extended dialogue about the nature of reason. 
Johnson's spokesman defends fallibilistic realism in a contest against 
a radical conslructivist, whose doctrine makes claims in the name of 
an entire world of reasonable knowers yet cannot consistently affirm 
their existence. 

We are fortunate to be able to offer the work of three thoughtful 
poets. Howard Nelson ponders the value of religious belief and our 
failures in personal kindness to loved ones. Jeff McRae evokes the 
experience of personal loss by those left behind, and Nick Fleck 
considers the passage of time and the end of a season. In a less pensive 
mood. Matt Silliman has reviewed Melville's Moby-Dick, from the 
jaundiced perspective of the whale himself. 

Bill Montgomery, Managing Editor 



4 The Mind's Eye 



Hawthorne and the 
Daguerreotype — 
Portraits Gleaned from 
the Sun 1 

BY ANNIE RASKIN 

I n a letter to Sophia Peabody in 1839, Hawthorne wished "there 
was something in the intellectual world analogous to the 
Dagueriotype [sic] ... in the visible — something which should 
print off our deepest and subtlest, and delicatest thoughts and feelings, 
as minutely and accurately as the above-mentioned instrument paints 
the various aspects of Nature" (The Letters. 1813-1843, ed. Thomas 
Woodson ct al., qtd. in Williams 114). 

The public reception in America to the invention of photography 
was overwhelming. This miraculous new way of creating an image 
that was seen as the absolute truth altered forever the ways in which 
we think about and respond to image. For writers and visual artists 
the "magic picture mania" was both a fascination and an opportunity 
to examine the old tension between image and word, as well as to 
ponder the camera as an agent of seeing. 

Nathaniel Hawthorne was the first in America to use the 
daguerreotype as a narrative device in fiction. I am interested in 
looking at the ways in which the daguerreotype pused serious artistic 
and personal questions and concerns for Hawthorne, the manner in 
which he portrayed those concerns and, as well, his introduction of the 
daguerreotype into fiction in his novel The House of the Seven Gables (1851). 



] This essay constitutes a revised version of a lecture delivered at a benefit fur Freel 
Library at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams. Massachussetts, on 
October 1 5. 2004. in honor of the Hawthorne Bicentennial. 



Tlie Mind's Eye 5 



Annie Raskin 



Louis Jacques Mande Daguerrc developed his process of fixing an 
image concocted of Hghi onto a metal plate, creating the first 
daguerreotype, in 1839 in France. The process produced an image, 
small enough to be easily held in the hand, normally contained in a 
boxlike frame with a cover that latched closed. Because the image is 
fixed on a polished silver plate, the viewer, holding it, has to turn it to 
just the right angle to make the image come into focus, making, in a 
sense, the portrait appear to be animated, to mimic life. If turned 
only slightly at another angle, the image disappears, leaving only the 
reflection of the viewer's face on the polished metal plate. As Alan 
Trachtenberg points out in his seminal essay "The Emergence of a 
Keyword," from its inception, photography (literally, writing with light): 

entered the world not j ust as a process of picture making but as 
a word, a linguistic practice, It was not very long before "da- 
guerreotype" became a common verb that meant telling the 
literal truth of things. With its subset of terms, like image and 
reflect, lens and shutter, fight and shade, the words photography 
and daguerreotype provided a way of expressing ideas about how 
the world can be known — about truth and falseness, appear- 
ance and reality, accuracy, exactitude and impartiality. The power 
attributed to the medium made the name into a keyword, a 
potential analogy for other human activities. (17) 

Photography, soon after its introduction, became a standard for 
the realistic portrayal of life. In Daguerre's own words announcing 
his invention, "The DAGUERREOTYPE is not merely an instrument 
which serves to draw Nature; on the contrary it is a chemical and 
physical process which gives her the power to reprod uce herself " ( 1 3) . 
Agency for the photograph is thus placed in the hands of nature. 
Photography— scientific, mechanical and "natural," gleaned from the 
light of the sun, not from an artist's hand — was accepted as absolute 
truth. It would take decades for the realization that the operant, the 
photographer, has a part in de lining the image, as does the referent, 
the one who is photographed. 

It is not surprising that the daguerreotype evoked such a popular 
response from those who were seeing mirror images of themselves, 
their loved ones and the portraits of the cultural and political icons of 
the period. "Uncanny" is the word the daguerreotype evoked then 
and continues to evoke. The daguerreotype image, removed from its 
referent and duplicated, although a likeness, was strangely alienated 
from that original referent, estranged in ways that suggest Freud's 
explication of the uncanny as the return of the repressed. Adding to 
the eeriness and novelty of seeing what at least appeared to be an 



6 The Mind's Eye 



Annie Raskin 



exact likeness of the subject, when the angle of vision shifted, the 
viewer saw herself engaging in the act of viewing, becoming a viewer 
of the viewer as well as the referent. 

The strange and unfamiliar familiarity, the power of absence that 
exists because the "realtime" of the photographic moment disappears 
as soon as the shutter snaps, the sense of the uncanny that Freud 
explicates in his papers, all of this lingers, despite the ubiquity of the 
photographic image surrounding us at the beginning of the 21st 
century, despite the radical changes in technology that now allow for 
the creation of a "photograph" with no "real" referent, and particularly, 
I believe, when that lingering uncanniness is embedded in fiction. 
There it provides immediate "presence" with all its references to the 
presence of its uncanny absence. 

The photograph in the form of the readily available and relatively 
inexpensive daguerreotype entered into the culture extraordinarily 
rapidly. Daguerreotypists set up shop in every community. For only a 
lew dollars, everyone could have a "living" image of themselves and 
of their loved ones. Hawthorne was among the early enthusiasts, 
frequently visiting the studios of daguerreotypists from as early as 
1841, when he was one of the first customers at the studio of Boston's 
prominent daguerreotypists, Southwurth and Hawes (Shloss 38). 

The instant popularity and proliferation of the photograph gave 
painters and writers much cause for reflection. The daguerreotype, 
popularly understood as a construction of nature seemingly free of 
human agency and representative of the absolute truth, evoked both 
fascination and anxiety from artists in terms of their concerns about 
the truth value of verbal representation and about the ethics of artistic 
creation. The daguerreotype seemed to represent the truth of reality 
without requiring human accountability. From his journals, his letters 
to his beloved Sophia Peabody and by inference from his fiction, we 
understand Hawthorne to have been shy, reclusive and enormously 
uneasy about his desire to be the unseen observer who might scrutinize 
people closely in order to obtain the material he needed for his stories 
while being both unobserved and emotionally detached from the 
people and the process. The rhetoric of the daguerreotype now 
declared that this was not only possible but to be desired. 

The photograph newly brought to the attention of artists the ever- 
present tension between word and image. The photograph came to 
represent the unvarnished nature-given truth. Could words capture 
that same unmitigated truth? One of the responses of writers to this 
new science of image-without-agency was to incorporate the rhetoric 
and image of the daguerreotype into their fiction. Hawthorne was 



The Mind's Eye 7 



Annie Raskin 



the first to do this, briefly in his short story "The Birth-Mark" (1843) 
and most fully in his novel The House of the Seven Gables. 

The haunted portrait, a portrait that because of its seeming 
mutability paradoxically linked with its supposed adherence to 
the absolute truth, prefigures the daguerreotype in fiction, has a 
lengthy history in 18th- and 19th-century British and American 
literature. The haunted portrait in literature can be traced from 
the era of the Gothic novel, first in England, then in America in 
Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland (1798) and, much later, in 
antebellum periodical stories from Poe, Hawthorne and numerous 
other writers (Williams 69-70). 

Hawthorne's short story "The Prophetic Pictures" (1837) presents 
the painted portraits of a wife and her husband as prescient forecasters 
of their unhappy fate. The facial expressions and attitudes apparent 
in their respective portraits do not match their outward, public 
appearance. The artist in the story knowingly possesses the power of 
prophecy but stands somewhat aloof from it, leaving the recognition of 
his prescience to the objects ol it. He clearly has creative agency, but 
steps away from the responsibility of that agency. In response to the 
wife's dismay at witnessing her expression in the portrait, the painter 
places the power of his gifts as outside his understanding and control. 

"Madam," said the painter, sadly, taking her hand, and leading 
her apart, "in both these pictures, I have painted what I saw. 
The artist — the true artist — must look beneath the exterior. 11 is 
his gift — his proudest, but often a melancholy one — to see the 
inmost soul, and, by a power indefinable even to himself, to 
make it glow or darken upon the canvas, in glances that ex- 
press the thought and sentiment of years. Would that I might 
convince myself of error in the present instance!" (9: 175) 

It is difficult not to hear Hawthorne wrestling with his own 
creative responsibility as a detached observer in those lines, and even 
more difficult in an earlier bit of narrative in the same story, offering 
society's critique of the painter's prowess in depicting the inner life: 
"Some deemed it an offense against the Mosaic law, and even a 
presumptuous mockery of the Creator, to bring into such existence 
such lively images of his creatures" (9: 178), In a passage near the 
close of the story, the painter is described in terms that again suggest 
a connection with Hawthorne's own anxieties about his writerly 
detachment. 

Like all other men around whom an engrossing purpose 
wreathes itself, he was insulated from the mass of human 

8 The Mind's Eye 



Annie Raskin 



kind. He had no aim — no pleasure — no sympathies — but 
what were ultimately connected with his art. Though gentle 
in manner, and upright in intent and action, he did not pos- 
sess kindly feelings; his heart was coid; no living creature 
could be brought near enough to keep him warm. (9: 178) 

At the very end of "The Prophetic Pictures," the artist/painter figure 
steps into the scene of his predicted violence just as the husband raises 
his hand to murder his wife. 

The painter seemed to hear the step of Destiny approaching 
behind him, on its progress towards its victims. A strange 
thought darted into his mind. Was not his own the form in 
which that Destiny had embodied itself, and he a chief agent 
of the coming evil which he had foreshadowed? (9: 181 ) 

Concerns about, the ethics of artistic scrutiny and agency, as well 
as implicit questions about the above-mentioned tensions between 
hierarchies of word and image are woven into much of Hawthorne's 
work from as early as his above-noted story. Before examining The 
House of the Seven Gables in some detail, I want to look briefly at two 
others of his shorter fictional works: "Sights from a Steeple" (1831) 
and "The Birth-Mark." 

His brief sketch "Sights from a Steeple," published before the 
appearance of the daguerreotype, directly addresses Hawthorne's 
artistic concern with the ethics of vision. For the duration of this sketch, 
the artist/writer/narrator sits isolated in a church spire as a storm 
gathers while he watches several groups of people far below — "a 
watchman, all-heeding and unheeded" (9; 192). What the narrator 
fails to tell us is tha t he is romantically interested in one of the women 
he is watching. He guesses at her interest in another and watches as 
she is marched home by her seemingly irate father, but, of course, he 
can only observe. He cannot act in his own behalf, and is reduced to 
his wistful ejaculation "O that the multitude of chimneys could speak 
. . . and betray, in smoky whispers, the secrets of all who . . . have 
assembled at the hearths within!" (9; 192). The folluwing often-quoted 
passage, with its references to brightness and shade, again prefigures 
the daguerreotype, as well as succinctly suggesting Hawthorne's own 
positioning as unseen seer. 

The most desirable mode of existence might be that of a spiri- 
tualized Paul Pry, hovering invisible round man and woman, 
witnessing their deeds, searching into their hearts, borrow- 
ing brightness from their felicity, and shade from their sor- 
row, and retaining no emotion peculiar to himself. (9: 192) 



The Mind's Eye 9 



Annie Raskin 



"The Birth-Mark," published first in 1843, is the first of Hawthorne's 
fictions to contain a camera. The photographer/artist, a scientist, distancing 
himself from his prophetic and "creative" powers with his camera, records 
a haunted "spirit" photograph of his wife's facial birthmark, a hand-shaped 
blood-colored flaw, as he sees it, in her perfection, and a loathed reminder 
of her femaleness. After having "fixed" the image of his wife's flawed 
face on the silver plate of the daguerreotype, this photographer and 
scientist, with a series of observations and "treatments," effectively "fixes" 
her death in his attempt to eradicate her birthmark, all in the name of his 
wish to narcissistically create "earthly perfection" (10: 37). In his one 
experiment with the camera, the scientist and husband hastily throws 
away the evidence, but not until his wife has seen the daguerreotype that 
mysteriously portrays her face as nothing but its imperfection — 
confirmation of his obsession, validated by nothing less than nature's light. 

Hawthorne's novel The House of the Seven Gables, published in 1851 
at the height of the proliferation and popularity of the daguerreotype, 
is narratively driven by the rhetoric of photography. As such, the novel 
provides insights into both of the artistic concerns brought about by 
the discovery of photography that I cite earlier — questions about the 
hierarchy of word and image and issues of the ethics of artistic vision. 

This novel is inscribed with the discourse of the haunted portrait, 
both painted and photographed. The painted portrait in its fictional 
presentation as haunted, as is clear from the earlier discussion of such 
portraits, easily takes on the rhetoric of the daguerreotype. Susan 
Williams in Confounding images, her study of photography and 
portraiture in antebellum American fiction, calls our attention to the 
beginning of this novel within the first paragraph as image and word 
merge in a portrait. In fact, image inspires word as the haunted old 
house with its seven gables is described as portrait, its windows, doors 
and gables forming a face, giving rise to the voice of the ensuing 
narrative. In this novel, images are living things, not static; they contain 
narrative. 

Word and image converge again in the character of the protagonist, 
Holgrave, the daguerreotypist who is also a writer, who mesmerizes 
Phoebe with a story of an ancient lost land deed found hidden behind 
her family's ancestral portrait. This uncanny ancestral portrait not 
only represents the long-dead Colonel Pyncheon's visage but also 
reveals the hidden, suppressed character of its referent, and finally 
the long-hidden deed itself: Holgrave's presence in the novel points 
to all of Hawthorne's artistic concerns about vision, observation and 
power. Standing at a distance, as Hawthorne wished to, Holgrave 
closely and often secretly observes those who are particularly 
uncomfortable with such scrutiny. In one of the final chapters of the 

10 The Mind's Eye 



Annie Raskin 



novel, his camera spies on and records even the dead, his camera 
presumably recording by the agency of the impassive and nonjudg- 
mental light of the sun. 

This is a novel written through the "camera eye," not so much in 
terms of experience made concrete in frozen frames of stilled vision 
as we see in Stephen Crane's word versions oJ Matthew Brady's 
photographs in The Red Badge of Courage, but as a vision through the 
eye of the camera to the public/private dichotomy of individual 
presentation, the culturally correct public persona versus the normally 
veiled spiritual or demonic qualities of personality and character — a 
dichotomy frequently observed in the then contemporary rhetoric of 
the daguerreotype. Pose and pretend however they will to present to 
the public their constructed self, no one may hide the private self 
from the all-seeing sun. 

Five portraits are omnipresent in this novel, mirroring and 
remirroring, each animate and uncanny; two are painted portraits, 
three are daguerreotypes. 

The first portrait we see, the painting of the Puritan ancestor who 
begins the legacy of greed, anger, ambition and ruthlessness that has 
tainted the Pyncheon family for all the succeeding generations, very 
much in the tradition of the literary haunted portrait, bears the mark 
of the uncanny. The unstable portrait shifts and alters, depending on 
the viewer and the occasion. Most observers sense a still-living power 
in the fierce features of the old Colonel Pyncheon. 

ft was considered, moreover, an ugly and ominous circum- 
stance, that Colonel Pyncheon's picture — in obedience, it was 
said, to a provision of his will — remained affixed to the wall 
of the room in which he died. Those stern, immitigable fea- 
tures seemed to symbolize an evil influence, and so darkly tu 
mingle the shadow of their presence with the sunshine of 
the passing hour, that no good thoughts or purposes could 
ever spring up and blossom there. {2: 21 ) 

Two daguerreotypes of the most recent male heir to the family 
legacy. Judge Pyncheon, both taken by Holgrave, one of them after 
the Judge's death, further animate and narrate the story. Both of these 
daguerreotype portraits assert their own power over their subjects, 
the copy (daguerreotype) replacing the referent, revealing what the 
original does not. The first, taken by Holgrave with the Judge's blessing, 
is intended by its subject to portray a gubernatorial candidate who 
presumes victory. Phoebe, the Pyncheon country cousin who has come 
to help out in the ancestral home, is suspicious even before viewing 
it. revealing one popular opinion of this new technology as unsettling. 

The Mind's Eye 11 



Annie Raskin 



"A daguerreotype likeness, do you mean?" asked Phoebe, . . . 
"I don't much like pictures of that sort — they are so hard and 
stern; besides dodging away from the eye, and trying to es- 
cape altogether. They are conscious of looking very unamiable, 
I suppose, and therefore hate to be seen." ( 2: 91 ) 

Holgrave admits the truth of Phoebe's observation, and attributes 
the phenomenon to the "wonderful insight in heaven's broad and 
simple sunshine" to bring out depth of character that even the subject, 
let alone the operant, may not detect (2: 91). He confesses thathe has 
taken the Judge's photograph a number of times, always obtaining a 
result that reveals the same disparity between the sitter's actual 
expression and what appears in the portrait. Just as Hepzibah 
Pyncheon confuses the ancestrat portrait of Colonel Pynchcon with 
the living judge in an earlier incident in the novel, Phoebe confuses 
the contemporary daguerreotype of the Judge for the ancient portrait 
of Colonel Pyncheon. 

"1 know the face," she replied, "for its stern eye has been 
following me about all day. It is my Puritan ancestor, who 
hangs yonder in the parlor. To be sure, you have found some 
way of copying the portrait without its black velvet cap and 
gray beard, and have given him a modern coat and satin 
cravat, instead of his cloak and band. I don't think him im- 
proved by your alterations." ( 2: 92) 

The long-dead Colonel Pyncheon becomes conflated with his heir, 
the contemporary Judge Pyncheon. Holgrave's daguerreotype, in the 
way all photographs inevitably are representative always already of 
death, of stasis, kills Judge Pyncheon before his actual death, merging 
his "hidden" malicious visage with that of his dead progenitor. Their 
shared and "hidden" vice and malice arc revealed, ironically by 
sunshine doubled — the sunlight that forms the photographic image 
on the plate in the camera and the sunlight that is a frequent figure in 
this text for Phoebe Pyncheon. 

The other painted portrait in Hawthorne's novel, the porcelain 
miniature of Clifford, like the portrait of old Colonel Pyncheon, again 
resembles the daguerreotype in its prescience and its uncanny properties. 
Clifford Pyncheon, imprisoned as a young man consequent to being 
falsely set up, as we find out well into the novel, by his cousin, Judge 
Pyncheon, is deeply mourned for her entire adult life by Ms unmarried 
sister, Hepzibah. Hepzibah hides her beloved brother's miniature in 
the secret and locked drawer of her writing desk, taking it out to gaze 
upon and weep over in privacy. The portrait, at least as interpreted 

12 The Mind's Eye 



Annie Raskin 



through Hepzibah's eyes by the narrator, appears to reveal much about 
the character and temperament of her brother in his youth. 

It is the likeness of a young man, in a silken dressing gown 
of an old fashion, the soft richness of which is well adapted 
to the countenance of reverie, with its full, tender lips, and 
beautiful eyes, that seem to indicate not so much capacity of 
thought, as gentle and voluptuous emotion, Of the possessor 
of such features we shall have a right to ask nothing, except 
that he would take the rude world easily, and make himself 
happy in it. (2: 3f-32) 

Here the portrait functions as iconic, imbued with the power to 
sustain belief. As long as Hepzibah may gaze upon Cfifford's miniature, 
she can believe him to be still present to her, still available for her 
dogged worship. The miniature further slips into the realm of the 
uncanny, however, as Hepzibah, in moments of great need or despair, 
can conjure up Clifford's likeness more fully and with more 
embellishment without unlocking her secret drawer, as she does on 
one particular occasion, after looking with distaste on the old Colonel's 
portrait following an unpleasant encounter with the Judge. 

By the spell of contrast, another portrait rose up before her, painted 
with more daring flattery than any artist would have ventured 
upon, but yet so delicately touched that the likeness remained 
perfect. [The] miniature, though from the same original, was far 
inferior to Hepzibah's air-drawn picture, at which affection and 
sorrowful remembrance wrought together. (2: 59) 

Living in her fantasy of a lovelier past, Hepzibah lives almost 
exclusively to dote upon an image as she can no longer dote upon the 
real. And in the above passage, original is both replicated and rearranged, 
separated by time and presence to the degree that one might argue as 
to the existence of an original. Whose portrait does Hepzibah actually 
possess? This uncanny porcelain miniature and Hepzibah's revision of 
it reinforce Hawthorne's preoccupation and concern with the uneasy 
power of imagination, with the tension between image and language, 
with his fascination with the voyeur, the secret gazer, the one who 
looks but is not looked upon by what she sees. 

More of his fascination with the power of the daguerreotype seems 
to be revealed in Hawthorne's presentation of the "real" Clifford, the 
freed Clffford now at last at home in the house of the seven gables, 
available to the gaze of his family. Clifford is written as daguerreotype 
as his visage shifts and shimmers, seeming to fade in and out of 
focus and seeming to alter depending on the viewer. 



The Mind's Eye 13 



Annie Raskin 



The expression of his countenance — while, notwithstanding, 
it had the light of reason in it — seemed to waver, and grim- 
mer, and nearly to die away, and feebiy to recover itself again. 
It was like a flame which we see twinkling among half-extin- 
guished embers; we gaze at it more intently . . . but with a 
certain impatience, as if it ought either to kindle itself into 
satisfactory splendor, or be at once extinguished. (2; 104) 

This portrait of Clifford speaks to the force of the photographic 
figure in the construction of this novel. Photographic images permeate 
and define character in ways that go far beyond descriptive passage. 
Like an actual daguerreotype, Clifford's visage changes with the angle 
and slant ol observation. 

The final portrait/photograph in the novel is that of the now dead 
Judge Pyncheon, the ancestor who so closely resembles the original 
Pyncheon, the Colonel, in both appearance and character. Holgrave, alone 
in the house after Hepzibah has fled in search of the frightened Ciifford, 
comes upon the death scene that has caused Clifford to bolt in terror of 
being once again falsely accused, and records what he understands 
immediately to be a natural death, death by the same ancestral ailment 
that likely killed the Colonel so long ago, and the more modern relative 
for whose death Clifford wrongly spent a lifetime in jaii, This 
daguerreotype is intended by Holgrave to be documentary proof of both 
Clifford's innocence and the Judge's guilt in setting him up decades ago. 

Phoebe returns unsuspecting from a visit of some days to her 
own home, to be welcomed by a stern Holgrave at the door and to be 
shown by him the original daguerreotype of the Judge, the one that 
she first mistook for his ancient ancestor in modern dress, and then 
the new one, the daguerreotype he has only just taken of the dead 
Judge Pyncheon. '"This is death!' shuddered Phoebe, turning very 
pale. 'Judge Pyncheon dead!'" (2: 302). 

This scene, though, is preceded by an entire chapter devoted to 
the novel's omniscient narrating voice walking us through the many 
hours of afternoon, evening and night alter Judge Pyncheon's death, 
a narrative camera eye spying on the Judge as his yet undiscovered 
body sits motionless in a chair in the parlor of the Pyncheon house 
directly in front of the painted portrait of his ancestor, the Colonel. 
The Judge sits there stilled throughout the night, viewed by the fig- 
urative "camera" of the narrator almost as if he were sitting in the 
protracted and tedious manner necessitated by the very long exposure 
required for this 19th-century photographic process. We see him 
unmoving; we hear his watch, heid in his hand, eerily ticking; we 
watch as the light changes, a storm arises and ceases, the dawn breaks. 



14 The Mind's Eye 



Annie Raskin 



We see what resembles an out-of-focus or faultily developed 
photograph as night deepens: 

Fainter and fainter grows the light. ... Has it yet vanished? 
No!— yes!— not quite! And there is still the swarthy white- 
ness — we shah venture to marry these ill-agreeing words — 
the swarthy whiteness of Judge Pyncheon's lace. The features 
are all gone: there is only the paleness of them left. And how 
looks it now? There is no window! There is no face! An infi- 
nite, inscrutable blackness has amrihilatcd sight! {2: 276) 

There is a moment in this narrative camera's long night's journey 
when the dead Judge confronts his long-dead ancestor's portrait, image 
face-to-face with image, both dead, and yet both so alive in their 
narrative power. 

Hawthorne surely knew that a photograph could not be produced 
without human agency. He surely knew, too, that the popular rhetoric 
of the daguerreotype as "truth," as an image that could not lie, was 
just that — rhetoric. The image gleaned from the sun is but a repre- 
sentation, manipulated by the photographer, the subject her/ 
himself, the capricious shadows and alterations of fight, no more or 
less truthful than the words Hawthorne chooses to represent the 
image. Borrowing the then contemporary rhetoric, however, allowed 
Hawthorne to "spy" as Paul Pry with a greater sense of ease, while his 
insertion of the object of that rhetoric into this novel gave the rhetorical 
power of the startling new "magic picture" to his words. 

Works Cited 

Crane, Stephen. The Red Badge of Courage. New York: Bantam, 1964. 
Daguerre, Louis Jacques Mande. "Daguerreotype." Classic Essays on 

Photography. Ed. Alan Trachtenberg. New Haven: Leete's, 1980. 
Hawthorne. Nathaniei. The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel 

Hawthorne. Ed. William Charvat et al. 25 vols. Columbus: Ohio 

State UP, 1962-1997. 
Shloss, Carof. In Visible Light: "Photography and the American Writer 

1840-1940. New York: Oxford UP, 1987- 
Trachtenberg, Alan. "The Emergence of a Keyword." Photography in 

Nineteenth-Century America . Ed. Martha A. Sandweiss. New York: 

Abrams, I99i. 

Williams, Susan S. Confounding Images: "Photography and Portraiture 
in Antebellum American Fiction." Philadelphia: U of Pennsyl- 
vania P, 1997. 



The Mind's Eye IS 



The Gospel of Martin: 
King's Messianic Faith 

BY STEWART BURNS 



Martin Lulher King, Jr. was not a saint, as he often confessed. 
Nor was he Jesus Christ, in either his first coming or his 
second. The earthly Jesus was sinless, the Gospels tell us. 
Jesus in his second coming would not have been crucified, as King was. 

King did serve as a messiah, at least of his own people, if not of 
his nation. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover had that right. Above all, 
King became a prophet in the truest sense. He believed that he spoke 
the word of God, that, like Jesus, he embodied the Word made flesh. 
Whatever his flaws, whatever his sins, he was a holy man, a spirit 
person, a shaman, who envisioned and experienced the sacred world. 

The first part of this essay explores King's spiritual journey and its 
legacy. The second part looks into the nature of his faith, and how his 
faith shaped his moral and political vision. 

Like Jews in Jesus' time, African-Americans hungered for a 
messiah in the post-World War II era to revitalize their messianic 
mission to redeem themselves and their adopted nation. Black 
nationalist Marcus Garvey had mesmerized millions in the 1 920s, but 
his hubris and the FBI had brought him down. Nation of Islam leader 
Elijah Muhammad aspired to the mantle of messiah, but like the 
Wizard of Oz, he was a small man hiding behind a. fake image. Black 
heroes tried to fill the void — Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, Paul Robeson, 



16 The Mind's Eye 



Stewart Burns 

Malcolm X. As he said many times, Martin King did not seek the role 
of messiah, of prophet. His own conscience and the black community 
forced it upon him, 

His father and mother and the black preachers of Atlanta reared 
him for this role. He might have been surprised by his sudden 
leadership of the Montgomery bus boycott, but black America was 
not. He was the one they had been waiting fur. King's correspondence 
during the bus boycott was replete with fellow Baptist ministers 
anointing him as messiah, as prophet, as Jesus. Preachers introduced 
him to iheir congregations as the metaphorical if not actual Christ, 
"nailed to the cross." Worshippers hailed him as their "little Jesus." 

Initially he valued this mythification as useful to achieve his goals. 
But his bona fide conversion experience of January 1956, at midnight 
in his kitchen, made it hard from that night on to disentangle his own 
persona from the Spirit that promised never to leave him alone. 
Surviving the Harlem stabbing of September 1958 made him a firmer 
believer in his sacred status and destiny. The more he sacrificed and 
anguished during the escalating crises of the 1960s, the more he felt 
filled up by Jesus, his "cosmic companion'— just as the spirituals and 
gospel songs had sung out for generations, often embarrassing him. 
By the late 1960s, when he like Lincoln knew that death was near, he 
believed that he was inhabiting Jesus' spirit, and that the Lord was 
inhabiting his. He probably did not believe that he was the 
reincarnation of Christ; only that Christ was alive in him, that they 
were intimately connected. 

Up until he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, he saw himself 
and was seen by others primarily as a Moses figure leading his people 
to freedom. During the last three years of his life, the same amount of 
time that Jesus preached and healed in Palestine, King shifted his 
persona from Moses to Jesus. In his preaching he had always blended 
the Hebrew scriptures with the New Testament, but in these climactic 
years his prophetic voice sounded more like the militant redeemer 
Christ of Revelation, yet with no less faith in the pacific Sermon on 
the Mount. In his final months, he self-consciously reenacted the 
journey of Jesus to Jerusalem and relived Christ's passion as his own. 
King, who lived within his words, most likely did not know whether 
his final quest was metaphorical or actual, or both. He had devoted 
his public ministry to making his metaphors come alive as "eternal 
diction." 

His friend the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, 
whom King nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967, remarked 
that the Buddha would reemerge in the future not as an individual 
but as a community. This was what King came to believe about Jesus. 



The Mind's Eye 17 



Stewart Bums 



Neither he himself nor any other individual embodied the second 
coming ot Christ (or the first coming of the Jewish messiah). He 
represented, as an apostle, the second coming in the form of what he 
called the "beloved community.'' King understood his prophetic, 
messianic role as to help transform all people, starting with African- 
Americans, then all the poor and disadvantaged, then all of humanity, 
into a collective messiah, a messianic community writ large. To the 
extent that he personified Jesus, or Moses, or King David, Amos, Isaiah 
or Jeremiah, he was spreading out his cosmic self, like poet Walt 
Whitman, to harbor the multitudes. Metaphor or not. King's own 
rebirth through crucifixion and martyrdom would usher in a reborn 
world. Or so his faith— rankled by doubt— tried to make him believe. 

The idea that all people potentially not only could identify with 
but could really share Jesus' divinity of course was not new. This was 
the meaning of the sacrament of eucharist to those who beiieved they 
actually tasted the divine body and hlood, but only for an instant 
(and in most Protestant churches only symbolically). For two millennia 
Christian mystics had believed that they merged with Jesus in one 
sense or another. A countertradition of Christian faith arose in the 
first century C.E. holding that all humans could find within themseives 
the sacred light that God had created to illuminate the cosmic darkness. 
They had only to claim it. 

King must have known about the Gospel of Thomas and other 
suppressed writings that were discovered buried in Egypt in 1 945 and 
alongside Israel's Dead Sea in the 1950s. This heretical gospel claimed 
that although Jesus led the way toward sacralizing the world, his 
followers were no less sons and daughters of God. Although the Gospel 
of Thomas was not fully examined until after King's death, his mature 
theology reflected it to an uncanny degree. 

"The Kingdom is inside you, and outside you," Jesus proclaimed 
to his disciples according to Thomas, echoing the rival Gospel of John. 
But Thomas took a different turn. "When you come to know 
yourselves," Jesus continued, "then you will be known, and you will 
see ttiat it is you who are the children of the living Father. 

"If they say to you, 'Where did you come from?' say to them, 'We 
came from the light.' ... If they say to you, 'Who are you?' say, 'We 
are its children, the chosen of the living father.' 

"Whoever drinks from my mouth will become as I am," Jesus 
said, "and I myself will become that person, and the mysteries shall 
be revealed to him" (Pagels 54-57). 

In some ways, these ideas were not so distant from the creeds of 
Baptists, Methodists, Quakers, Shakers, Pentecostals and many other 
Protestants who believed in an inner light that connected all children 

IS The Mind's Eye 



Stewart Burns 



of God amid the Satanic darkness. Black and white Baptists' rebirth in 
conversion meant literally seeing the light, as Paul had been blinded 
by it on the road to Damascus. Protestant evangelists of the Second 
Great Awakening called themselves "new lights." (The Italian word 
for birth literally means "to give to the light.") Gnostic Christians not 
only saw the divine light within their souls; they embodied it. They 
not only reflected it; they projected it. It was their being. 

King and other black social gospel preachers added something 
that perhaps had been Implied previously. People would not be 
resurrected as individuals, since the kingdom of God was already within 
us and among us. People would be resurrected as a community of 
equals. Salvation would mean not that of individual bodies and souk 
but of the national and global body and soul, a global rebirth, a global 
new beginning. This new heaven and new earth would be a third 
creation: the first out of the abyss of cosmic darkness, the second out 
of the deluge of Noah's flood, the third out of the mass sfaughter of 
the modern era beginning with the American Civil War. 

King was probably never a true believer in the traditional Baptist 
creed; as a boy he shocked his Sunday-school class by denying the 
bodily resurrection of Jesus. But toward the end of his life he had 
transmogrified into a born -again Baptist heretic. In all of his preaching 
he rarely (if ever} talked about saving individual souls or personal 
immortality — the Baptist bedrock. He always preached about the 
saving of the soul of black folk, of his nation, of the world — of 
simultaneous personal and social regeneration. He warned not of 
physical death but of permanent "psychological death," the death 
of the collective soul that could be brought about by forces of 
depersonalization, by internal violence of spirit. He spoke like the 
transc'endentalist that he was. 

In fact, his vision of immortality was less Christian than Greco- 
Roman, Jewish, even Hindu. One achieved immortality not through 
being personally resurrected — dead is dead — but through one's action, 
suffering and sacrifice while alive. Giving one's life to one's sacred 
purpose was the ultimate means of making oneself immortal. We have 
the potential to live eternally in the cherished memory of future 
generations, as surely King shall and countless other martyrs of the 
civil rights revolution. Abraham Lincoln set it out prophetically in his 
First Inaugural Address; 

"The mystic chords of memory," he declared on the eve of the 
Civil War, "stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave, to every 
living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell 
the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, 
by the better angels of our nature." 



The Mind's Eye 19 



Stewart Burns 



Lincoln delivered his coup de grace 3 3 months later on a desolate, 
blood-soaked battlefield in Pennsylvania: 

The world will little note nor long remember what we 
say here, but it can never lorget what they did here. It is for 
us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished 
work that they have thus far so nobly carried on. It is rather 
for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before 
us — that from these honored dead we take increased devo- 
tion to the cause for which they here gave the last full mea- 
sure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that the dead 
shall not have died in vain, that the nation shall, under God, 
have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the 
people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish 
from the earth. 

King began his sacred mission to save America's soul believing 
that only he, and not the people he led, spoke the word of God. 
Leadership always descended from the pulpit to the pews, he insisted, 
never from the pews up to the pulpit, The first mass meeting of the 
Montgomery bus protest, December L955, was the first of many 
revelations to him that the people he led, in Montgomery, in the South, 
in the nation and in the world, not only were speaking God's word 
with their prayers and songs, their hands, their feet, their hearts, their 
lives, but — no longer invisible — were standing before him as the'Word 
made flesh, the children of divine light. He followed them as much as 
they followed him, 



Religious faith has always been a two-edged sword, fraught with 
promise and peril. Nothing in recent times has made the peril sharper 
than the global duel between the extremist faiths of George W. Bush 
in the West and that of militant islamists, epitomized by Al Qaeda 
and its allies. How, then, did Martin King deploy his faith as a weapon 
of liberation without being vanquished by it, without sabotaging his 
values? How did he reconcile faith and compassion? 

Hardly ever in world history has someone outside government 
wielded as much moral and political power as did King- His power lay 
in his command of nonviolent principles and practice as an alternative 
to mass violence; in his gift for tapping the latent power of the people 
he led. His greater power, entwined with these, was his mastery of 
the power of faith rooted in the prophetic tradition. It was his marriage 
of Gandhian nonviolence and Judeo-Christian prophecy into a union 
he liked to call "soul Force" that made him probably the most important 

20 The Mind's Eye 



Stewart Bums 



American leader of his century. Yet the ultimate worth of his leadership 
may be found more in its legacy to the future than in leading the civil 
rights revolution of the mid-20th century. 

If the true might of soul force has barely been tested, the mighty 
stream of prophetic inspiration surely has. It has often overflowed its 
banks from the time of Moses, when God mythically parted the Red 
Sea to liberate the Hebrews from slavery, then drowned the pursuing 
Egyptians. From that primal moment on, prophets both legitimate 
and illegitimate have moved masses of people to risk and sacrifice by 
invoking, conjuring or aligning with God's presumed commandments. 
The prodigious force aroused, whether by King David and his 
successors, by Jesus, Christian martyrs, the Crusades, the Reformation 
or by Muhammad and his prophetic progeny both Sunn! and Shia, 
was arguabfy the driving force of civilization for five thousand years, 
certainly until the ascendance of capitalism and the Enlightenment. 
Historian Henry Adams, descendant of two presidents, asserted a 
century ago that the force of faith (in his mind, faith in a female 
divinity) was greater than the force of technology. It was a force of 
much good, and of much ill. 

The power of Christian faith, especially the vision of a chosen 
people with a sacred mission, drove the creation of the American 
republic, from the Puritan theocracy through the First and Second 
Great Awakenings and the rise of Protestant evangelism. Lincoln's 
civil religion of national salvation was powered by his prophetic 
interpretation of God's wUf for America's destiny. For many Americans, 
especially blacks, the Civil War was understood, as Lincoln prophesied, 
as the scourging of the whole nation for the sin of slavery, and its 
cleansing atonement. 

Black people took the American messianic drive a step further. 
During and after slavery, they concocted a black social gospel theology 
that, despite backsliding by church hierarchies, conjured God to 
liberate them from racial oppression. Under King's reluctant 
stewardship, the prophetic fire of the black social gospel mobilized 
millions to the streets during the 1960s. 

In the decades since King's death, the power of prophetic faith 
has been hijacked by forces of the New Right in the United States and 
by conservative clergy around the world. But progressive evangelists 
in King's tradition— Christian, Jewish, Muslim, even Buddhist— are 
striving to make a comeback. 

At one time in Western history, the Enlightenment appeared to 
be as radiant as the force of theistic laith. Could the force of 
Enlightenment values keep pace with the other side of modernity, 
that of spiritual evolution? Liberalism in various stripes took hold in 



The Mind's Eye 21 



Stewart Bums 



the 20th century as the dominant counterweight to fascism and 
totalitarianism. By the end of the century it seemed to have prevailed 
in much of the world — though not in the holy lands of the Mideast 
where monotheism was born. 

This was a Pyrrhic victory. Liberalism exhausted itself in its long 
battle against political and religious absolutism. Pummeled by both 
left and right during recent decades, the liberal faith in pluralism, 
tolerance and individual freedom was exposed as a bulwark of 
inequality, of valuelessness. Particularly in the U.S., the Right seized 
the high ground of substantive and sacred purpose, throwing liberals 
on the defensive. Ironically, liberal values underwent a revival in many 
countries while declining in the United States. At home, liberalism 
sank so low that in the early 21st century its values were trumpeted 
in a new American imperium by a right-wing president devoted to 
the holy grail of the free market. Liberalism by itself was no longer 
adequate, if it ever was, to guide social progress. 

King tried to offer a new faith-based philosophy thai remedied 
the ills of liberalism while preserving its redeeming features, No more 
an absolutist than a relativist. King nonetheless held fast to moral 
absolutes, to what was right and wrong as he perceived them (or 
thought God did) — even while believing in freedom of choice, 
tolerance of differences and a certain degree of relative truth. He 
believed sincerely that God was on his side, on the side of the freedom 
and peace movements. While his ends were fairly fixed, he was flexible 
about means as long as they did not violate basic nonviolent or 
democratic principles. He was willing to stretch soul force as far as he 
could without abandoning its core meaning. 

He was indeed a moral warrior for absolute truth and righ- 
teousness — but not of moral absolutism, which accepted no constraints 
upon self-defined truth. This was a vital distinction. He was reared in 
the black social gospel tradition that invoked God's wrath to strike 
down the evil of slavery and white supremacy, regardless of 
consequences — the tradition that welcomed the barbaric Civil War as 
God-sent deliverance. 

At the same time, his eagle-eyed double vision allowed him to 
embrace not just absolute values for chosen peoples but universal 
values for humankind. Alongside fighting for "black power" in all but 
name, he strove to empower all people and to free them from 
depersonalizing forces. Like Lincoln, he preached a civil religion that 
was grounded in the "amazing universalism" of the Declaration of 
Independence, but he was willing to take sides to enable the forces of 
light to overcome the forces of darkness. 

Departing from Lincoln, who softened his righteous fire with 

22 The Mind's Eye 



Stewart Burns 



tender words alone. King's moral absolutes of justice and righteousness 
were always tempered, in speech and action, by a countervailing moral 
power of openness, questioning and compassion — a moral sensitivity 
attuned to the complex and unique circumstances o( each person's 
sacred, unrepeatable being. The escalation of righteous action, he 
believed, must be matched by an escalation of empathy. 

Paradoxically, as activist writer Barbara Deming explained in an 
article King readjust before his death, "We can put more pressure on 
the antagonist for whom we show human concern." It was the caring 
for his person "in combination with stubborn interference with his 
actions that can give us a very special degree of control. We put upon 
him two pressures — the pressure of our defiance of him and the 
pressure of our respect for his life — and it happens that in combination 
these two pressures are uniquely effective" (Deming qid, in Burns 
398-99). The ethical path can turn into the practical path. 

King the master synthesizer was striving to forge a middle pas- 
sage avoiding the extremes of either moral absolutism or relativism, 
yet bridging the constructive qualities of each. Unrestrained, a com- 
mitment to moral absolutes, such as ending racism, could lead to 
dehumanizing, perhaps destroying, one's opponents deemed racist. 
Yet without the motivation of moral absolutes, of absolute ends, and 
the passion they unleashed, the intolerable status quo would likely 
remain intolerably static. Civil rights would never have been attained 
in the American South without the belief that segregation was 
eternally wrong. 

Relativity, such as freedom of speech and conscience, has its 
absolute value, but it must be tempered by concern for the common 
good. The rampant relativism of "anything goes" was no less harmful, 
if it was complicit with complacency, than Godlike certitude, if the 
ultimate outcome of moral absolutism was nihilism, enshrined forever 
by 9/11, relativism could lead to collective solipsism, a purposeless 
mass of isolated Adams with no common ground but their lust for 
aimless liberty. Many in the Islamic world believe that relativism has 
run amok in the United States, especially in the realms of popular 
culture, gender relations and sexuality. They have a point. 

Relativity, as Einstein understood, worked only in the context of 
the whole. In order not to be lost in the mass, individuals must remain 
connected to one another as their lifeline to the world and the cosmos. 
The Great Chain of Being was not only historical but eternally present. 
We are a chain of threads, King said, wrapped up in a single garment 
of destiny, bundled into an inescapable network of mutuality. 

In a world still shaking off its absolutist past, moral relativity — 
the valuing of difference and diversity as the highest good— is not 



The Mind's Eye 23 



Stewart Sums 



hard to justify. So one might ask, if moral absolutes are so volatile, so 
overpowering, why not give them up? Aren't they a throwback to 
the past, a pillar of bygone ages? The answer is twofold. Postmodernism 
to the contrary notwithstanding, moral absolutes are going to become 
more pervasive, not less, especially in their religious and technological 
expressions. King seemed to grasp that computers and robotics might 
ultimately enforce greater conformity and mental regimentation, for 
greater numbers of people, than lundamentalist faiths that may finally 
run their course. 

More important, absolute ends have served for millennia as the 
most powerful engine of social transformation, and most likely will 
continue to do so. Makers of social change, by and large, have proved 
most effectual when they have seen themselves as agents of divine 
will — in the abolition of slavery, for example. If we want to get rid of 
inequality, injustice, barbarism and environmental holocaust, 
prophetic faith might still be the most fruitful instrument. But not by 
faith afone. Faith remains biind without the morning light of 
compassion. 

Martin King was never more of a moral warrior, and never more 
deeply committed to nonviolence, than when he was approaching 
the end of his life. He did not see these stances as inconsistent, but as 
prerequisites for each other. Some claimed that nonviolence died with 
Dr. King. Quite the contrary. In the United Stales and around the 
world, from eastern Europe to the Philippines to South Africa, 
nonviolent direct action flexed its muscle during the last third of the 
20th century. After King's death, the broadened peace movement 
engaged in exemplary, large-scale nonviolent action that, as President 
Nixon admitted, forced him to end the Vietnam War. In the 1970s 
and 1980s, mass nonviolent action reached new heights with 
campaigns against nuclear energy and weapons, and marches for 
women's rights and homosexual liberation. Environmental activism 
and the movement for global justice have carried this tradition into 
the 21st century. 

King was convinced that assertive nonviolent action, soul force, 
was not only more ethical than violence but more effective, especially 
in the long term. He did not think that violent methods had ever 
been truly effective, whether in the Civil War, which left its legacy of 
wretched white supremacy, in global warfare or in ghetto riots. In six 
decades since Gandhi "invented" kin 1906 (on September 11, in fact), 
mass nonviolent action in King's view had proved more successful 
than six millennia of human violence. This was partly because it did 
not leave bitterness behind to haunt future generations. It stymied 
the law of the multiplication of evil, of violence and suffering. 



24 The Mind's Eye 



Stewart Burns 



This iron law had to be countered by what I call "King's law": The 
more that one is committed to absolute ends of right and wrong (for 
better or for worse), the more one must be committed to nonviolent 
means, especially the absolute refusal to dehumanize one's adversary. 
King aspired to create the moral equivalent of civil war, whose just 
reconciliation would not give lie to Lincoln's malice toward none, 
charity for all. 

King believed that soul force as the synthesis of justice and 
compassion, of faith and understanding, of social and personal rebirth, 
was rooted in ancient wisdom but geared to the future of human 
evolution. Soul force required the fire of faith and moral passion not 
only to break down the walls of inhumanity but to forge the new 
person: a free person whose emotional capacity would be as mature 
as her intellect, whose mental and emotional being, rather than 
sabotaging each other, would coalesce into a more enlightened creature 
more truly reflecting the image of God. Soul force would deliver as 
well the beloved community, knit together by compassionate 
understanding, heartfelt communication, bonds of human intimacy. 
But however strong his faith. King had grave concerns about what 
was to come. He believed that the spring 1968 Pour People's 
Campaign^he somehow knew it was to be his last— would dem- 
onstrate whether creative nonviolent action would prove to be the 
"dominant instrument of social change" for the future. Or would it 
be thrust aside by armed struggle on one side and people's anomie 
and "timid supplication" on the other? 

Let us transplant King's anguish onto the uncertain terrain of our 
new century. Will we inherit a future brokered by self-righteous 
terrorists, official or unofficial, and by masses of disempowered 
consumers alienated from the world and their own souls, terrified to 
their bones? 

We who claim the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. must cling to 
the life raft of nonviolence, in word and deed, in passion and 
compassion, as determinedly as he did during the last years of his life. 
The alternative is unspeakable. 



Works Cited 

Burns, Stewart. To the Mountaintop. New York: Harper, 2004. 
Denting, Barbara. "On Revolution and Equilibrium. "Liberation Feb. 1968. 
Pagels. Elaine. Beyond Belief . New York: Random 2003. 



The Mind's Eye 25 



A Window 



BY HOWARD NELSON 

The man who killed his friend in a hunting accident 

has taken to wearing a large wooden cross 

on a chain around his neck. 

1 love the man who said, 

"I hear and behold God in every object, 

yet understand God not in the least." 

And the woman who plays Chopin so beautifully 

that the night sits down all around her and listens, who said, 

"It's music that brings us closest to God." 

And Gerard Manley Hopkins, 

God, I love that man's poems. 

Who could feel Christ in spring 

and the Virgin Mary in the wind 

and had language astonishing enough 

to make us believe it, too. 

We need the word God 

because it's easier to say 

than "The Great Mystery." 

Yet [ always teel an affection 

for the thoughtful person who says, 

with neither pride nor apology, 

"I'm not a religious person." 

And it's a relief, sometimes, at a memorial service, 

like opening a window, 

when a son or a daughter or a friend stands up, and says, 

"He wasn't a religious person," 

and that's the end of that, and then 

talks about the one gone with grief and love. 



26 The Mind's Eye 



The Man in the Yard 



BY HOWARD NELSON 

My father told me once 

that when he was about twenty 

he had a new girlfriend, and once 

they stopped by the house on the way 

to somewhere, just a quick stop 

to pick something up, 

and my grandfather, who wasn't well — 

it turned out he had TB and would die 

at fifty-two — was sitting in a chair 

in the small backyard, my father 

knew he was out there, and it crossed 

his mind that he should take his girlfriend 

out back to meet him, but he 

didn't, whether for embarrassment 

at the sick, fading man 

or just because he was in a hurry 

to be off on his date, he didn't 

say, but he told the little, 

uneventful story anyway, and said 

that he had always regretted 

not doing that simple, courteous 

thing, the sick man sitting in 

the sun in the backyard would 

have enjoyed meeting her, but 

instead he sat out there alone 

as they came and left, young 

lovers going on a date. He 

always regretted it, he said. 



BY NICK FLECK 



After the end of a certain season 

a wild comfort settles upon the lake 

and on our rustic camp at its side. 

In the evening a fisher hunting 

along the shore crosses the pier 

where I sit cross-legged; she is 

undisturbed by my meditation. 

The fork -tailed swallows 

skim across the calm face 

of the dusky lake drinking 

and feeding on the nearly invisible insects. 

A few lazy and scarlet-tinted clouds float 

overhead and I am reminded of how 

the night is a prelude to morning 

when again I'll sit beside still waters 

on a rock greeting the rising sun. 



28 The Mind's Eye 



To Things Left Behind 

BY JEFF McRAE 



Let's be honest with each other: There is me and all things 

left behind when you are gone. Here is the note on the butcher block. 

It says: Tuesday, 2:48 km. Here are the forks and spoons drying 
in the dish rack. They tell me to place them in their coffins. 

Your shoes frown from opposite ends of the living room 
over all things I leave undone. Their oxblood bruise 

unbeautiful in your absence. You are the imagination of the shoes. 
In the bathroom, my toothbrush, lamp revealing my mouth's 

muster of white lies. Here is the mirror. It speaks 

in metaphors of the complicated fracture your hair leaves on the tiles. 

ft tells me you wil] be back. It tells me you never left. 

And the long relief of your clothes, kicked aside, at the foot 

of the bed. I switch on the outside light should you appear. 
Here is the front door, mask behind which the chorus chants. 



The Mind's Bye 29 



Lost in a Mirror: 

Dialogue with a Radical Constructivist 

BY DAVID KENNETH JOHNSON 



Champions of conflicting- philosophical theories can at times 
become so captivated by the merits of their views that rational 
debate seems all but impossible. Such a rift has evidently 
emerged between the two epistetnological-metaphysical positions 
featured in this fictional dialogue: radical constructivism (RC) and 
fallibilistic realism (FR). The contemporary realist sees human thought 
and language as speculative, hence fallible, means of coming to know 
the objective features of an external (mind- or language-independent) 
world. By contrast, radical constructivism (as articulated primarily by 
the movement's founder, Ernst von Glasersfeld) insists that the exercise 
of these human capacities necessarily restricts all knowledge to 
subjective constructs formed in experience. Consequently, realist talk 
of a world beyond thought or language strikes the constructivist as 
old-fashioned, intolerant or naive. While attempting to provide an 
accurate portrait of each perspective, I ultimately resolve the dispute 
in favor of realism by showing that constructivism tacitly affirms the 
core assumptions of the (realist) philosophical tradition it hopes to 
replace. 

Fallibilistic Realist (FR): Hello. Nice to see you again. 

Radical Constructivist (RC): Hello. Did we meet at the cybernetics 
conference in Amherst last spring? 



30 The Mind's Eye 



David Kenneth Johnson 



FR; Yes. I attended your session on "Representing Objects." 
RC: ".Re-presenting Objects." 

FR: Right — of course. As I recall, you made some fairly radical claims 
about our knowledge of the world. 

RC: Well, you're half right. Strictly speaking, the theory of knowledge 
1 favor doesn't make reference at all to the so-called "external world." 

FR: And by the "external world" you mean . . .? 

RC: The alleged world outside my experience, what traditional 
theorists usually refer to as mind- independent, objective reality. 

FR: Okay. So tell me: How do you account for knowledge without 
bringing in the world? 

RC: As the psychologist Ernst von Glasersfeld argues 

FR: Hold on a second! I thought you weren't going to reference the 
world outside your experience. Isn't that where von Glasersfeld 
resides? 

RC: May I continue? 

FR: Please do. But I hope you'll allow me to revisit the issue of von 
Glasersfeld's residence a bit later. 

RC: Of course. As I see it, von Glasersfeld's epistemological perspective, 
what he calls radical constructivism [Radical], alone overcomes the 
central failing of the Western philosophical tradition. 

FR: Which is? 

RC: The perennial conceit of realism: the view that our knowledge should 
or could reflect the features of a world outside the knower. In raising 
the specter of this one, "true" world, realism proffers the illusion that 
we can settle all disputes by reference to the way things "really" are. 

FR; The idea of an independent or external world certainly is a core 
assumption of traditional epistemology and metaphysics, though I 



The Mind s Eye 31 



David Kenneth Johnson 



can't say that it strikes me as illusory. Tell me, if knowledge doesn't 
reflect the ways things are, what is its purpose? 

RC: It tells us "what we can and cannot do" [Glasersfeld "Facts" 438]. 

PR: I take it that knowing objects in the external world is something 
we cannot do, on this view? 

RC: Since all knowing happens within our experience, knowledge 
has but one kind of object: conceptual structures that we currently 
take to be viable [bid. 441 J. 

FR: No one would deny the truism that knowing happens within 
experience; but knowing is always the experience of knowing 
something. And isn't that "something" frequently a fact about the 
external, extraeonceptual world? 

RC: Again, you're half right. We can all agree that every act of knowing 
has an intentional object. But, just as plainly, no object of knowledge 
exists independently of the act of knowing! So, "what we ordinarily 
call 'facts' cannot be elements of an observer-independent world but, 
at best, elements of an observer's experience" [ibid. 438]. 

FR: Very clever! Your account does seem to capture many of our private 
experiences, like dreams, headaches and other subjective notions. But 
let's say I stub my toe on a large rock. A complete description of that 
experience will mention both experiential items, such as painful 
sensations, and something decidedly nonexperiential — Hie rock itself. 
The result is perfectly general and should not surprise us: All theories 
of knowledge presuppose an ontology, or metaphysics, identifying 
the domain of objects and relations to which our knowledge claims 
might apply. 

RC: I have no problem defining ontology or even "metaphysics" in 
that way. Of course, the objects and relations of constructivist ontology 
will all be internal to our experience. 

FR: So a rock is internal to my experience? 

RC: All we can know or say about rocks, headaches or any other 
object of knowledge derives from our experience. Or do you imagine 
that you have some kind of mystical connection to rocks independently 
of your experience of rocks? 



32 The Mind's Eye 



David Kenneth Johnson 



FR: Nut at all. Why do you say thai? 

RC: You suggested that my emphasis on experience fails to account 
for what we might call an "unexperienced" rock. But surely talk ol 
rocks outside all experience is senseless. 

FR: I don't follow. 

RC: It's fairly simple. Since all thought and language occurs within 
experience, it makes little sense to think or ta Ik about rocks — or anything, 
for that matter — outside experience. This notion of an "unexperienced 
rock" comports with Hilary Putnam's characterization of realism as "the 
impossible attempt to view the world from nowhere" [28] . The supposed 
externality or independence of that world would place it forever beyond 
our ketv. A more useless notion I couldn't imagine! 

FR: Okay, I see what's happened here. Of course, no thought of a rock 
exists outside all thought or experience. 

RC: Exactly. 

FR: But rocks surely do! 

RC: Now I'm lost. Aren't you asking me to think about a rock that, by 
hypothesis, no one has ever thought about? 

FR: No, I wouldn't think of it! The notion of an unexperienced rock is 
simply a counterfactual claim concerning the nature of any particular 
rock, once perceived or perceivable, as not dependent for its existence 
or nature on our perception or any other human activity. The rocks 
we are talking about now, for example, might have remained 
unexperienced rocks had we chosen to direct our attention elsewhere. 

RC: That is only slightly less complicated than Kant's elusive "thing- 
in -itself" [Critique]. 

FR: Despite its alleged complexity, it seems to me that the Kantian 
notion of "rocks-as-they-exrst-in-and-for-themselves" is equivalent, 
in meaning and extension, to "rocks." Kant notoriously, though self- 
inconsistendy, 1 reduces the external world to an ineffable, propertyless 
void. Kant's "rocks," unlike the ordinary ones t have in mind, are 
indeed unknowable. 

'On Kant's contradictory metaphysics, sec. [or example, Ruben ch. 2 and Stove cli. 6. 

The Mind's Eye 13 



David Kenneth Johnson 



RC: Perhaps, but it does seem to me that Kant was right about one 
thing; Knowledge of the world is possible precisely to the degree that 
we have made it ourselves. Whatever we can know or say about rocks 
is entirely dependent on our making or doing. To my way of thinking, 
the "rock itself is just shorthand forthe many ways we have come to 
coordinate our rock-experiences. 

FR: I detect a fatal degree of inconsistency here. Your very statement 
of the theory seems both to employ and to dismiss external, nonex- 
periential reality. 

RC: How so? 

FR; Aren't you trying to convince me — and I assure you that I'm part 
of the real world — of the truth of these perfectly general claims about 
knowers and their experiences? You share with Kant, apparently, a 
taste for contradiction. These perfectly general remarks about 
knowledge, if true, refer to the world in a way that your theory forbids. 2 

RC: Before this goes any further, I should warn you that I'm not 
interested in the "Truth" or imposing my view on anyone. I accept 
my view as a viable account of experience. You are entirely free to 
adopt for yourself some other view thai you find more palatable. 

FR: Please don't take offense; I don't mean to be confrontational. 
Since I share your distaste for "imposing" views on others, let's agree 
to allow the merits of our respective views, if any should emerge, to 
"impose" themselves on us. 

RC: Agreed. 

FR: But did I hear you say that you were not interested in truth? Do 
you not take your view to be meritorious or true? 

RC: I claim only that my theory is a viable account of the world as I 
experience it, since absolute truth is, as they say in religious circles, 
for Him alone. Take a look at this passage from von Glasersfeld. He 
captures my point exactly when he writes: 

Lest my sometimes quite passionate way of arguing for 
constructivism be interpreted as an attempt to insinuate that 
it and it alone is "right," let me hasten to say that this is not 

2 On radical consltuaivism's contradictory metaphysics, see Johnson "Metaphysics" 27-M. 



34 The Mind's Eye 



David Kenneth Johnson 



my intention. I would be contradicting one of the basic prin- 
ciples of my own theory if I were to claim that the 
const™ ctivist approach provides a true description of an ob- 
jective state of affairs. As I sec it. Radical Constructivism 
merely provides a different way of thinking and its values 
will depend mainly on its usefulness in our experiential world 
and only marginally on what professional philosophers have 
to say about it. [" Knowing"! 

FR: I share your skepticism about absolute truth, at least with respect 
to empirical matters. But von Glasersfeld's words strike me as 
dangerously self-serving. The wholesale rejection of truth and 
objectivity, in a preemptive strike against would-be detractors, 
amounts to a rejection of the very foundation of rational discourse 
and thought. 

RC: T think 1 hit a nerve! 1 don't think von Glasersfeld means to reject 
philosophy entirely, just the distortions of a small group of critics. 
What is it that you find so disturbing about this passage, anyway? 

FR: As f mentioned a moment ago, you seem to share with Kant a 
propensity to violate the limits of your own theory. Here we have 
von Glasersfeld nervously aware that he has done just that. His only 
recourse now is to embrace the most paradoxical of schemes: to banish 
any remnants of truth from his very own account of experience! 

RC: What's so paradoxical about that? 

FR: If von Glasersfeld honestly believes that the world is his con- 
struction, then it follows that he takes it to be an objective state of 
affairs that the world is his construction and, furthermore, that this 
account of his betief is true. 

RC: Maybe that is the case for von Glasersfeld within the confines of 
his experiential world. But that doesn't mean he must take his view 
to be "True-with-a-capital-T." 

FR: Now, that is a worse neologism than anything Kant could imagine! 
But notice: Von Glasersfeld fails to reserve any role for truth even 
within his own experience, since he forbids us from drawing the 
natural conclusion that he thinks his beliefs are "right." And to be 
right is nothing but to be in the grip of a truth-claim — and without 
any scare quotes or capitalization, I might add. 



The Mind's Eye 35 



David Kenneth Johnson 



RC: I'm not surprised that you see things this way. But isn't it rather 
intolerant to suppose that everyone must share your passion for truth? 

FR: You are confusing particular truths with truth per se. If I were to 
say that you should accept as true my every belief, then that would 
indeed be intolerant. My more modest claim is simply that you should 
be willing to admit that you take your own beliefs to be true! 

RC: My beliefs may or may not be "true" in your sense of the word. 

FR: And what sense is that? 

RC: Presuming that I've got things right; or, as Richard Rorty would 
have it, submitting to the philosophical fantasy that my thoughts or 
words might infallibly mirror the world as it is. I'm sorry, but it is the 
height of arrogance to suppose that one's beliefs are true or right in 
this "realist" sense. 

FR: Now I've hit a nerve. We are thoroughly fallible creatures, prone 
to error, exaggeration and wishlul thinking. But one cure for these 
ills is to pursue truth more effectively, not to dismiss it as fantasy. In 
fact, Rorty is so convincing in part because he defends an obvious 
truth — that ail cognition is active and open to error. He is wrong, 
however, to suggest that knowledge could never reflect the world as 
it is in itself. True beliefs, like an accurate map, help us find our way 
in the world. 

RC: When I say this strikes me as right or true, I mean only to remark 
on the internal coherence of my beliefs, not their supposed 
correspondence to any external world-in-itsclf. Since all that 1 know 
amounts to a viable map of the world as I experience it, the map is the 
territory, in Heinz von Foerster's famous phrase. 

FR: Though coherence, like viability, is a promising indicator of truth, 
the very idea of truth or "getting something right" seems to involve 
some kind ol correspondence of a thought with its object, or the map 
with its territory [Weissmam Debt and Hypothesis}. I'm right to think it 
is raining when, in fact, it is raining! 

RC: I suppose that will depend on whose map and territory you have 
in mind. Realism seems to require that we all see the same world in 



36 The Mind's Eye 



David Kenneth Johnson 



the same way. My fallibilislic constructivism rejects truth claims in 
favor of a multiplicity of viable worldviews. 

FR: Questioning the truthfulness of any particular claim is one thing, 
rejecting the very notion of truth quite another. The former is 
fallibilism — the idea that many, but not all, of our beliefs could be 
false. The latter is a variety of global skepticism that is notoriously 
self-inconsistent. 

RC: How is skepticism self-inconsistent? The skeptic simply questions 
the veracity of our every belief. 

FR: Not every belief. Skepticism threatens to self-destruct unless some 
of its claims are taken to be immune from doubt. Failing that, the aspiring 
global skeptic is caught in a logical trap: He or she must take it to be true 
that all truths are suspect. The quite general result seems to be that 
without some truths against which to measure falsehoods, or veridical 
perception against which to measure illusions, the very ideas of fallibility 
or perceptual illusion make no sense [Bouwsma 141-151]. The 
wholesale retreat from truth is disingenuous, and certainly not the mark 
of toleration or fallibility [Russman 94: Johnson 12-1 3], 

RC: If truth plays any role in my theory, it will be limited to subjective 
qualifications of beliefs formed within experience. Radical con- 
structivism is an ontologically neutral theory of knowing with no 
metaphysical ambitions at all. To continue Rorty's metaphor, my focus 
is not on thoughts made "true" by the so-called "real" world but on 
the reflections in my fallible mirror. 

FR; I don't see how we can talk sensibly about reflections independent 
of mirrors — that is, persons capable of reflecting things — and the things 
reflected, Will you grant, at the very least, that these reflections could 
have their source in the external world? 

RC: Look, as an agnostic, I simply prefer to remain silent on the issue — 
if you will only let me! 

FR: Are my critical remarks a kind of external constraint on your 
theorizing? 

RC: I'm experiencing your challenges to my theory, that is true. But 
as with all such constraints, 1 never can be sure if they are arising 
from an external other or from within my own experience. 



The Mind's Eye 37 



David Kenneth Johnson 



FR: What could it possibly mean to say that yew might be the author 
of my challenges to your theory? 

RC: That my current experience is such that attributing constraints to 
"others" proves viable. 

FR; But, the scare quotes notwithstanding, you are experiencing a 
constraint? 

RC: Yes, I am. 

FR: So your constructive activity is not wholly free? 

RC: That is the only sensible conclusion. We are never free to construct 
the world just as we please, since "every individual's abstraction of 
experiential items is constrained ... by social interaction" [Glasersfeld 
"Cognition" 126]. 

FR: So it is possible that at least some aspect of these constructed yet 
necessarily constraining "others" emanates from the "real" world? 

RC: That is what it means to say that I'm agnostic about the nature 
and existence of that world. These "others" may or may not be external 
to me. I just don't know. 

FR: Tell me, then, how is your modestly skeptical account of knowledge 
any different, save the proliferation of scare quotes, from the realist 
position that our thoughts may at times reflect the features of the 
external world? 

RC: I would say only that my knowledge fits whatever constraints I 
have so far experienced. 

FR: So "fitness" is synonymous with "viability." They both serve as a 
kind of replacement for truth as correspondence with the world? 

RC: That's right. 

FR: So the difference is this: I say that my words may at times 
correspond to reality, you claim they simply fit, 

RC: Yes, but the fitness of my concepts, unlike correspondence, is 
metaphysically innocent and doesn't say anything positive at all about 



38 The Mind's Eye 



David Kenneth Johnson 



what my concepts fit into; they either fit or they don't. If they do, I 
know this one thing to be true — my concepts are viable, they seem to 
function properly in my experiential world. If they don't fit, I know 
this other thing to be true — they are not viable. 

FR: So to say, for example, that my hand fits into a glove is to say 
nothing at all about the glove? 

RC: The fact that your hand fits into the glove gives us no clue about 
the glove, except that this "independent ontological obstacle" 
[Glasersfeld "Exposition" 81 is large enough to accommodate your 
hand. Generally, to say A fits into B, that any of my constructs fit the 
constraints of the world as I experience them, is to make no positive 
assertions about B. 

FR: It most certainly does, and by your own account! Fitness is a 
relational property that of necessity refers to two equally indispensable 
things — my hand and the glove. To say "A fits into B" is to say that B 
is distinct from and larger than A, identifying at once some subset of 
the objective spatiotemporal relations obtaining between A and B. 
Generally, attending solely to A in "A fits into B" is tantamount to 
asserting A; and "my hand fits into this glove" is, obviously enough, 
not equivalent to "my hand." 

RC; You must admit, though, that saying "my hand fits into this glove" 
says very little indeed about the glove. It may be snug or infinitely 
large, or possess any number of other properties besides those entailed 
by the modest claim that my hand fits into it. 

FR: Yes. Minimally, "A fits into B" entails only that "there exists at 
least one thing larger than and independent of my hand." But that 
claim amounts to the belief that at least one thing exists independently 
of my experience. And given that one thing exists independently of 
my experience, it follows that it is a necessary truth that the external 
world exists. Your account of fitness accomplishes what you previously 
thought impossible — it proves realism about the external world! 

RC: But you forget, once again, that mine is a theory of knowing, not 
being. The former doesn't, except perhaps in the minimally realist 
fashion implied by the notion of fitness, say anything at all about 
metaphysics or being. 

FR: So unqualified ontological agnosticism is no longer your position? 



The Mind's Eye 39 



David Kenneth Johnson 



RC: 1 qualify my agnosticism only so far as the notion of fitness 
requires. Otherwise, my view still resists realist talk about a world 
beyond thought or language. 

FR: So, despite some resistance, you do affirm the existence of at least 
some small part of the external world? 

RC: I affirm only the bare possibility; and f do so only because I have 
some sympathy for poetry. 

FR: I'm sorry; now you've lost me. 

RC: We can never be certain to have accessed reality, even when talking 
about fitness. So the possibility you so desperately want me to 
entertain — that our thoughts or words reach out to grasp something 
of this elusive, "real" world — must be extrarational. Though potentially 
meaningful in some other context, these ideas are best left to poets 
and mystics. 

FR: Faflibilistic realism does not require certain, or absolute, access to 
the world. Your account of fitness as entailing the possibility of mind- 
independent constraints, though modest, is sufficient to establish your 
view as a species of metaphysical realism. 

RC: That's quite a leap. I have admitted only the possibility of some 
sort of mind-independent constraints. Realism immodestly assumes 
what can never be confirmed: the existence of a ready-made and 
singular universe. 

FR: The hypothesis that we are cognizing creatures who attempt fallibly 
to access the features of a larger, impersonal, constraining natural 
realm of determinate though perhaps evolving objects and relations, 
a view ineliminable from the greater part of science and common 
sense, is perhaps the most well-founded and confirmed hypothesis 
humans have ever constructed! 

RC: Hypothesizing the so-called external world to account for the 
undeniable constraints on our thinking and acting is a convenient 
fiction. But, to explain what amount to apparent regularities of 
experience, we need only embrace an "as-if" ontology that permits 
talk of a world that often appears as //it exists external to our knowing. 
You confuse the making of a hypothesis with positing a fiction. 



40 The Mind's Eye 



David Kenneth Johnson 



FR: The mark of the fictional, in literature and metaphysics, is its 
unreality or essential dependence on mind. The role of fitness, in 
contrast, is to explain the apparently extrasubjective constraints on 
our thinking and acting. We have but two choices: Assume that some 
of these constraints exist in the external world or deny that they do. 
To say that we experience these constraints "as if" they emanate from 
the world, however interesting as an additional reflection on our 
experience, is entirely irrelevant to the question of whether or not 
they are our constructions. How we answer this question determines 
whether we are realists or solipsists. 

RC: I think you've succeeded only in twisting my words. My 
constructivism is radical precisely because it gives up the traditional 
philosophical hope of capturing exactly the nature of the world. This 
view, in sharp contrast to the pretensions of realism, fully accepts the 
inherent fallibility of human knowers. 

FR: Did you not condemn realist uncertainty about the external world 
as insecure? 

RC: I did. 

FR: Are we to conclude that realism is unacceptable because fallible, 
yet constructivism viable because fallible? You cannot have it both 
ways, 

RC: I won't deny that you have succeeded in constructing a consistent, 
if somewhat old-fashioned, epistemological story. I simply offer a 
contemporary narrative account that prioritizes our active participation 
in the creation of a multiplicity of viable worldviews, Why deny me, 
and others, the freedom to construct our own worlds? 

FR: Talk of constructing worlds, like Nelson Goodman's infamous 
claims to have made every feature of the stars, derives whatever initial 
plausibility it has from a persistent equivocation on the independence 
of things we don't make, such as worlds, from our knowledge of things 
we do make, such as worldviews. Aside from concepts, contracts, 
musical scores and the like, unqualified talk of making the objects of 
our theories within experience is, frankly, nonsensical. 

RC: It's fairly offensive that, after all this time, you can express such 
little sympathy for my view. 



The Mind's Eye 41 



David Kenneth Johnson 



FR: I admit that there are times when experiencing is a kind of making, 
as hearing a joke or tripping in the dark creates in me a certain 
sensation. All the rest of experience is simply a way of thinking or 
talking about matters that are discovered, not made [Weissman 
Hypothesis ch. 1]. We are free to decide that "rock" is a name for some 
particularbundle of properties and relations. We can decide, too, which 
categories to place these bundles into — "solid things," "inanimate 
things," and so on. But the properties we discover in rocks, not those 
we invent or construct, determine when we can sensibly say of some 
other thing that it, too, is a rock or belongs in the same or a similar 
category. In general, though we are free to describe the world In 
whatever fashion we choose, we are not free to decide what we might 
find there [Devitt]. 

RC: Given our very different assumptions about knowledge and the 
world, I think we would do better to focus not on the failures of the 
other but on understanding our differences. Constructivism will always 
prefer discussion to demolition. 

FR: Let me see if I've got this right: Your pluralist and tolerant 
constructivism contrasts sharply with the intolerant dogma that is 
realism — a position you variously describe as "conceited," "mystical," 
"useless," "illusory," "naive," "pretentious," "impossible* and 
"irrational"! Despite your professed preference for discussion over 
impolite attempts to disprove the other, your rejection of my position 
has been no less forceful and seemingly dogmatic than, perhaps, some 
of my criticisms of constructivism. 

RC: Mine is most assuredly not some veiled defense of dogmatic 
"truth." In fact, I've been explicit: Given the undeniable gap between 
what we think of the world and the way the world is, constructivism 
fallibly and modestly limits knowledge claims to the former. 

FR: Realism, not constructivism, fallibly bridges the gap. Construc- 
tivism sees the gap, and in its demand for certainty retreats to the 
relative security of mind. This one important lesson seems lost on 
constructivists of a radical stripe: If, like Descartes, we set out from 
the radically nonnatural assumption of a lone knower somehow 
ontologically detached from the ordinary worfd of rocks, trees and 
other peopie, knowledge of that world will forever remain elusive or 
mysterious. 



42 The Mind's Eye 



David Kenneth Johnson 



RC: Maybe I prefer that mystery to your one-size-fits-all, God's-eye 
view of the world. We would all benefit from a healthy dose of humility 
when it comes to making claims about a world that supposedly rests 
beyond the experiential interface. 

FR: This charge rests squarely on the illusion I just described — the 
Cartesian idea that we could theorize about the world from "nowhere." 
or do epistemology in an ontological vacuum. Small wonder that the 
world -spinning narratives of constructivists often seem preferable to 
Descartes' lonely existence! But these two are not our only options. 
Fallibilistic realism represents this other, thoroughly naturalistic, 
approach: See ourselves, our minds and our very capacity to speculate 
fallibly about our place in the world as simply another aspect of the 
knowable, determinate, mind-independent world itself. 

RC: My world -spinning narratives, as you say, at least don't try to 
exceed the bounds of what is rationally available to knowers in the 
fashion of realism. 

FR: Do you forget now your earlier admission that "fitness" requires 
affirming some smafl portion of that world? Your fallibilistic realism 
is there for all to see. This is fairly unremarkable, for how could it be 
otherwise? How could a theory of knowledge, in contrast to the fantastic 
proposals of a solipsist, faif to locate itself in our common world? 

RC: Your constant references to solipsism simply confirm my suspicion 
that you fail to understand my position. 

FR: I think it time to revisit, as promised, my initial reaction to yotir 
use of von Glasersfeld's words in defense of radical constructivism. 

RC: Be my guest. But this will have to be the final chapter of our 
discussion. 

FR: You began with the claim that your theory of knowledge doesn't 
make any reference to the world at all. Is that not true? 

RC: That's true. And I am willing to concede now that it does, but 
ever so slightly. 

FR: t argued earlier that the existence of one external thing proves 
realism. 



The Mind's Eye 43 



David Kenneth Johnson 



RC: A pretty minimal version, as I said. 

FR: Is it a minimal ontology that includes billions of entities? 

RC: I wouldn't imagine that it is. 

FR: There's nothing minimal about your account, for it makes explicit 
reference to billions of autonomously existing entities — all knowers. 

RC: That doesn't sound right. 

FR: Let me explain. You set out to show that you could make sense 
of knowledge without making any reference to things or relations 
that exist externally to your own subjective, constructive activity. It 
follows that you cannot, by your own lights, make even the slightest 
reference, however provisional or indeterminate, to one other 
independently existing person. Yet you have done this throughout 
our conversation; in fact, the very having of a conversation seems to 
imply it. 

RC: I know how to fix that! 

FR: I'm just about done. Your very first claim was that constructivism 
overcomes the basic conceit of realism by denying that "we can settle 
all disputes by reference to the way things 'really' are." The fatal error 
occurs as you say "we . . ." and I can stop right, there. This one little 
word is all I need to hear to know, beyond any doubt at all, that you 
will not be able to live up to your own radicalism. 3 The use of this 
plural pronoun lends an air of plausibility to your theory, but at the 
price of breaking its original promise to avoid all references to the 
world, since "we" refers without qualification to every cognizing being 
on the planet. 

RC: You are entirely free to reject my invitation 10 consider a 
conslructivist alternative to your realism. 

FR: Sorry, but you cannot, again by your own lights, extend an indirect 
if polite invitation for us to give the theory a try, since the very making 
of an invitation presupposes the existence of at least one other person 
to whom that invitation is directed. It would seem more appropriate 
for the consistently radical constructivist to fall silent upon recognizing 
the solipsistic implications of his or her view. 

>Stove dubs this error, common tu all versions of subjective idealism, the "pronoun problem." 
44 The Mind's Eyt 



David Kenneth Johnson 



RC: I now wish that I had. You pretend to derive all of this simply 
from my admission that the world may at times serve as a constraint 
on our experience? 

FR; The idea that the world may constrain our experience implies access 
to both knowers everywhere and the external world. There could be 
no plainer statement of realism. So in this modest yet undeniably 
realist way, constructivism exits the mirror at the price of confounding 
its sole reason for imagining itself a radical alternative to more 
traditional epistemology. The only viable account of our constructive 
activity seems to be fallibilistic realism. It's yours for the taking. 

RC: Thanks just the same. Frankly, I favor my experiential world, in 
all its self-inconsistent glory, to your consistently oppressive "demands 
for obedience" [Meturana 29] to the "truth." 

FR: You mistake my passion for the truth for the demands the world 
places on us all, including the demands of reason. 

RC: A collection of demands nonetheless. 

FR: I suppose that is true. 

RC: Good-bye 1 



'I would like Ki lliank Kathleen Johnson, Matt Silliman and Paul Nnodta) for helpful 
comments on earlier drafts of this paper. 



The Mind's Eye 45 



David Kenneth Johnson 



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141-151. 

Descartes, Rene. Meditations on First Philosophy. Ed. David Weissman. 

New Haven: Yale UP, 1996. 
Devitt, Michael. Realism and Truth. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991. 
Foerster, Heinz von. Observing Systems. Seaside, CA: Intersystems, 1984. 
Glasersfeld, Ernst von. "Cognition, Construction ot Knowledge, and 

Teaching." Synthesis 80 (1989): 126. 
. "An Exposition of Radical Constructivism." Texts in Cybernetic 

Theory. Unpublished manuscript. 
. "Facts and the Self from a Constructivist Point of View." Poetics 

18 (1989): 438. 

. "Knowing Without Metaphysics: Aspects of the Radical 

Constructivist Position." Research and Reflexivity; "Towared a 
Cybernetic/Social Constructivist Way of Knowing." Ed. 
Frederick Steier. London: Sage, 1989. 

. Radical Constructivism: "A Way of Knowing and Learning." Lon- 
don: Palmer, 1995. 

Goodman, Nelson. Of Mind and Other Matters. Cambridge, MA: Harvard 
UP, 1984. 

Johnson, David Kenneth. "The Metaphysics of Constructivism." 

Cybernetics and Human Knowing 1.4 (1993): 27^1. 
. "The View from Somewhere: A Philosophical Critique of Radical 

Constructivism." Cybernetics and Human Knowing 3 .4 (1996): 12-13. 
Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. Trans. F. Max Muller. New 

York: Doubleday, 1966. 
Maturana, Humberto. "Reality: The Search for Objectivity or the Quest 

for a Compelling Argument?" Irish Journal of Psychology 9.1 ( 1988) : 29. 
Putnam, Hilary. Realism with a Human Face. Cambridge, MA: Harvard 

UP, 1990. 

Rorty, Richard. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton, NJ: 

Princeton UP, 1979. 
Ruben, David-Hillel. Marxism and Materialism. Atlantic Highlands, N.I: 

Humanities, 1977. 
Russman. Thomas. A Prospectus for the Triumph of Realism. Macon, GA: 

Mercer UP, 1987. 
Stove, D. C. The Plato Cult. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991. 
Weissman, David. Hypothesis and the Spiral of Reflection. Albany: State U 

of New York, 1989. 
. Truth's Debt to Value. New Haven: Yale UP, 1993. 



46 The Mind's Eye 



Sartre and The Sopranos: 
Italian-American 
Identity in the Media 
and Real Life 

BY SHERILYN SAPORITO 



America is sometimes considered a melting pot — a place where 
different cultures blend together to form one monolithic way 
of life. However, there are many cultural groups living outside 
the stereotypical American landscape. Whether by habit, choice or 
forcible exclusion, these groups must live in two cultures simultaneously. 
This can create some serious problems for hyphenated Americans as 
they search for their identity. For example, Italian-Americans are no 
longer Italian and not fully American. As generations are born from 
the original immigrants, they become more and more American, 
forcing the group (or the individual) to make a choke to either become 
agents for preserving their cultural heritage or risk losing it to the 
melting pot. 

In 1948, Jean-Paul Sartre attempted to explain the relationship 
between the anti-Semite and the Jew, and while doing so, he raised 
some critical points about ethnic identity and the construction of the 
"other" that apply to Italian-Americans. Sartre writes that our identity 
and knowledge of the self are shaped by how we see ourselves and 
how other people see us, and these two conditions cannot be separated. 



The Mind's Eye 47 



Shmlyn Saporito 

In Being and Nothingness, Sartre says, "[T]he nature of my body refers 
me to the existence of others and to my being-for-others. I discover 
with it for human reality another mode of existence as fundamental 
as being-for-itseff, and this I shall call being-for-others. If I want to 
describe in an exhaustive manner the relation of man to being, I must 
now attempt the study of this new structure of my being — the 'For- 
others'" ( 298). 

Associated with being-for-others are important issues such as pride 
and shame. Pride and shame stem from our relationship with the 
world. When we have an ethnic identity — when we know we are 
different — the images of us put forth by the world will have a strong 
impact on cultural pride. These images, whether true or false, will 
bind a group together as they respond to these messages. 

Sartre writes that the people who are the most responsible for stigma 
and racism are the people who create racist ideology, not the stigmatized 
group itself. Thus, the problem is not a Jewish problem, a black problem 
or a woman problem, it is the problenr of the anti-Semite or the racist 
or the misogynist. Unfortunately, because the stigma creator is operating 
a priori, he/she escapes reason, and therefore personal responsibility, 
which increases the challenges the stigmatized group faces while 
defending themselves (Anti-Semite 13), 

Sartre observes two typical responses, or modes of defense, of the 
stigmatized: authentic identity (i.e., in the case of anti-Semitism, the 
authentic Jew) and inauthentic identity Unauthentic Jew). Inauthentic 
Jews react to the anti-Semite and exhibit what are perhaps the most 
pernicious consequences of stigma; they see themselves through the 
lens of the other. They are self-monitoring, self-hating, and they 
distance themselves from all Jewishness (Anti-Semite 91). Authentic 
Jews recognize the social forces that surround them, and they 
understand themselves despite these forces, which allow them to shape 
their own identity. "Thus the authentic Jew is one who asserts his 
claim in the face of the disdain shown to him" (Anti-Semite 90). Sartre 
sees the authentic Jew as being the reasonable character even though 
the path of authenticity is a more chaffenging, but ultimately more 
rewarding, one. 

Sartre's model of the stigmatizers and the reaction to their 
messages by the stigmatized can be applied to Italian-Americans as 
well as to Jews. In order to pass on an authentic group identity to 
new generations, Italians, and other ethnic groups, have to battle 
against inauthentic myths and stereotypes told about them by 
the larger society, which are often fouder than the stories that tbey, 
the subgroups, are trying to tell. Although there are no vocal groups 
who seek to deny Italian-Americans rights, ur who discriminate openly 



48 The Mind's Eye 



Sherilyn Saporito 



against them as the anti-Semite does the Jew, a look at the myths 
being told about Italian-Americans by the mainstream media (i.e., 
Hollywood, television and commercials) reveals that Italians are still 
a marked group. 

As Bernard Beck explains, because of the immense size, makeup 
and populations ol America, popular culture has become our only 
vehicle (or a shared, national community. This has become truer as 
the structure of urban and suburban American life strips local 
communities away from us. Wc look to popular culture to get 
knowledge from, and feel included in, a larger society, and we look to 
television and film's "hyperreality" to take us away from the isolation 
of daily life. Because of this isolation and dependence on popular 
culture, "our images and understandings ol immigrants, or subcultures, 
and of the human nature of diverse peoples are heavily influenced by 
what we receive through that culture" (Beck 3). In addition, pop 
culture plays another important role in identity construction, as Brian 
L. Ott explains: The culture industry, and television in particular, 
performs two functions with regard to identity formation today. First, 
television furnishes consumers with expticit identity models, models 
not of who to be but of how to be. Viewers learn to fashion their 
identities by watching popular characters fashion theirs (Kellner 238- 
47). Second, television furnishes consumers with the symbolic 
resources — the actual cultural bricks — with which to (re)construct 
identity (Ott 58). 

Unfortunately, popular culture operates on a circular paradigm: 
It offers a model to American consumers; if consumers accept it, the 
popular-culture machine will continue to use this model and will only 
offer variations on the original theme. Such is the case with the Italian- 
American models offered by corporate media. It is a model from history 
(the uneducated immigrant, the gangster, the isolated Italian 
communities) that has its roots in authenticity, but it is an old story 
that has yet to be revised and updated for the 21st century. 

The gangster story is the most common model, or myth, used in 
stories about Italian-Americans. Movies such as Scarface (1932), The 
Godfather (1972), GoodVellas (1990) and, most recently, the cable- 
television series The Sopranos (199S) tell stories based on variations of 
the themes ol crime, family loyalty, personal honor and linguinc with 
clam sauce. Because they are entertaining, and because they include 
some authentic myths in their narration, these stories are accepted 
by the American public; and because of the nature of popular culture, 
it is impossible for other stories of Italian-Americans to break through 
the confines of this model. 



The Mind's Eye A9 



Sherilyn Sapsrito 



One ol the most perturbing aspects of the gangster genre is the 
prevalence of Italian-Americans in its constructions. The writers, 
directors andactors in the canon of gangster movies are largely Italian- 
Americans: Scorsese, Coppola, De Niro, Paci.no, Sciorra, Gandolfini 
and Falco. Beck attributes this phenomenon to the significance this 
myth plays in the construction of Italian- American identity. He writes; 

The growing interest in exploring the Italian character of 
organized crime that these film artists demonstrate is evi- 
dence of its deep meaning to Italian Americans, to their sense 
of identi ty, and to the v nresolved issues this community fa ces 
in negotiating its role in American society. . . . These are not 
the concerns imposed on this culturally embattled ethnic 
group by a mainstream culture that is derogatory and re- 
pressive. They are the concerns raised from within that com- 
munity by its most accomplished children. (3) 

Richard Gambino, echoing Sartre, does not agree with Beck's 
conclusions. Italian-American participation in the perpetuation of the 
gangster stereotype is a symptom of inauthentic identity, not a search 
for it. It is true that there are some valid qualities of Italian- American 
life in Mafia movies, but this is because, generally, myths are rooted 
in some truth. What separates an authentic myth from an inauthen- 
tic myth is the amount of the lived experience found within them 
(Gambino "Crisis" 273). There is little harm caused by isolated 
individual inauthentic myths — one Godfather movie will not cause an 
Italian identity crisis; however, the harm, and the crisis, comes when 
there are only inauthentic myths being told — when you cannot find 
an example from popular culture that does not show only Italian- 
American stereotypes. Because their understanding of themselves 
comes from the larger society, as described earlier, the misrep- 
resentations of Italian- Americans in popular culture can cause them 
to accept the fafse myth. They use the "cultural bricks" offered by 
these false myths and media images to build their identity. Not only 
are Italians constructing their identity based on uniived false 
experiences but they are also agents in perpetuating (and giving false 
validity to) these stories. "Self-understandings and self-expressions 
produced in this mode by the group's members reinforce the less 
authentic myths, inspiring more belief in them and inspiring the 
production of more art in the same vein" (Gambino "Crisis" 274). In 
response to Beck, movies about gangsters cause "movies about 
gangsters to turn out to be movies about being Italian." 

It is unfair to say that a handful of Hollywood artists are Italian- 
Americans' "most accomplished children." Italians have successes in 

50 The Mind's Eye 



Sherilyn Saponin 



every aspect of American life, from the arts to sports to pofitics to 
business. Beck should not place responsibility solely on the shoulders 
of Italians, for as Sartre wrote of the anti-Semite and the Jew, it is the 
problem of the stigmatizer, not the stigmatized, and the available 
options of the stigmatized are to assume either an authentic identity 
or an inauthentic identity (Anti-Semite 13). Popular culture is mostly 
created from and by inauthentic identity. Scorsese, Coppola and De 
Niro have made careers from creating imaginary worlds of dons and 
hit men. They do not do it to defame their heritage; they do it because 
it was their vehicle to success, to their paychecks. Yet it has had serious 
consequences. 

A Princeton-based Response Analysis Corporation poll found that 
74 percent of adult Americans believe that most Italian-Americans 
have some connection to organized crime, yet the U.S. Department 
of Justice estimates that fewer than .0025 percent of the 26 million 
Italian-Americans are involved in organized crime (OSIA 1 ). This is a 
very real effect of popular culture's circularity and of its role in modern 
Americans' identity construction. If Italian-Americans want to be 
successful in this culture, it is a lot easier for them to take the easy 
way out and assume inauthentic identity, either by denying their 
heritage or by buying into the inauthentic myth. Unfortunately, 
because the Mafia image is so present and has been incorporated so 
thickly into American popular culture, reasoning with facts and figures 
does nothing to displace this myth. In fact, some Italians have become 
so defensive that they are denying that the Mafia exists (Gambino 
Blood 283). This is creating another form of inauthentic identity, one 
based on as many self-deceptions as inauthenticity caused by an 
embracing of the Mafia myth. 

As harmful to Italian-American identity as the Mafia image is, 
there are other, subtler, but still false and inauthentic, messages coming 
from the media about Italian-Americans. The following is an analysis 
of one of these movies. Exemplifying these less obvious Italian- 
American stereotypes is the 1993 romantic comedy Air. Wonderful, 
directed by Anthony Minghella, starring Matt Dillon and Annabella 
Sciorra. Set in the early 1990s, Mr, Wonderful tells the story of Gus and 
Leonora (Lee), two Italian -Americans from "the neighborhood." Gus 
and Lee are divorced, but Gus reenters Lee's life because he cannot 
afford to pay her alimony. He tries to find her a new husband to free 
his commitment to her and, in the process, Gus and Lee fall back in 
love. The piot sounds innocent enough, but because Gus and Lee are 
Italian-Americans, subtle stereotypes hide among the plot points and 
dialogue. 



The Mind's Eye 51 



Sherilyn Sapcrito 



Leonora is trying to escape her Italian identity through education. 
This implies that Italians are uneducated and ignorant and have 
something worth escaping. She has assumed what Sartre would call 
an inauthentic identity. She sees herself being-for- others, and through 
leaving the neighborhood and going to college, she is escaping her 
working-class Italianness. 

"You're still a guinea!" Gus shouts to Leonora as she returns to 
school. This contrast between working-class Italians and the educated 
is one of the most deep-seated inauthentic myths told about Italians: 
An Italian-American will lose his/her ethnicity if educated; he/she 
cannot be Italian and professional simultaneously. Italian-Americans 
must resort to organized crime or restaurant ownership to make a 
living, because they do not see education as valuable. In a sense, this 
myth denies Italian-Americans the American part of their identity. 
They cannot take part in the American dream because they lack the 
motivation to promote themselves within the system. They either 
resort to crime or are complacent staying at the bottom rung of the 
class system. In Mr. Wonderful Gus and his friends work at Con- 
Edison — they're electrical workers, not managers. They are constantly 
trying to come up with money through get-rich schemes, such as 
buying a bunch of frozen turkeys and selling them on the street for a 
profit. Eventually, they come across a dilapidated bowling alley and 
decide that their way to riches is through fixing it up. While there is 
no shame in owning a bowling alley or being an electrical worker, 
the movie connects these nonprofessional jobs as an essential part of 
the characters' Italian-American identity, and it juxtaposes this to the 
non-Italians in the movie (or WASPS, since some of Gus's friends are 
black and Mexican) who are all professionals and/or educated. 

This inauthentic myth ignores the fact that some of the world's 
most successful people have been Italian, including, but not limited 
to: A. Bartlett Giamatti, the youngest president of Yale University in 
200 years; Generoso Pope, who worked his way from a railroad worker 
to one of the Forbes 400 richest people; and Amadeo Pietro Giannini, 
founder of Bank of America. According to a report from the Order 
Sons of Italy in America (OSIA). taken from data from the 2000 U.S. 
Census, 48 percent of Italian- Americans have either a high school or 
a college diploma, compared with 44 percent of the general population; 
and the average Italian-American family has a median annual income 
of $61,300, compared with the national median income of $43,162. 
The data shown are not consistent with the corporate media's vision 
of Italian-Americans as an uneducated, working-class ethnic group. 

Another inauthentic myth told in Mr. Wonderful is about Italian 
women. The women in the movie are overemotional, dramatic, 

52 The Mind's Eye 



Sherifyn Saporito 



superstitious and money hungry. At one point in the film, Gus says to 
his friend during a conversation about women, "Don't go out with 
Italian girls, they're killers, I told you this. Check her out, start saying 
a Hail Mary and see if she moves her lips." Later, in another scene of 
just women, Gus's non-Italian girlfriend takes advice on how to make 
Gus commit to her from an older Italian wife. "I've still got wedding 
cake under my pillow; we've been happy 28 years." Of course, these 
stereotypes are just that, stereotypes, but the movie does not portray 
these characteristics as belonging just to the characters in the movie; 
instead, they seem to speak for all Italian-American women. Gus says, 
"Don't go out with Italian girls," meaning all and any Italian girls. 

Inherent in Sartre's description of being-for-others is the 
acknowledgment that the "others" have not formed their opinions 
about the world through personal experience alone. When being- 
for-others, not only do we have to justify our own identity but we 
also have to justify the way our kind is portrayed in the world. Gus 
had one bad experience, that we know of, with an Italian woman, 
yet he condemns them all. This message is not recanted when he and 
Lee get back together; it is almost as if he still loves her even though 
she is Italian , Viewers of this mo vie will not come away from it thinking 
positive things about Italian-American women. 

While Gus and Lee get back together, and Gus becomes a partner 
in the new bowling alley, none of the themes of the characters' Italian- 
American identity are resolved. Gus's social status does not change 
significantly, and he never withdraws the remarks he made to Lee 
about her escaping her ethnic identity through education. No attempt, 
by Gus or Lee, is made to overcome Gus's remarks about Italian- 
American women. The unfortunate thing about this movie is that it 
represents one of the few non-Mafia messages being told about Italian- 
Americans, and because it is a romantic comedy, that "happens to be 
about Italians," it is perhaps more harmful in its veiled state. Why is it 
that we see only these versions of Italian life — when they are not 
even typical of reality? Where are the other representations? 

Nancy Savoca, an Italian -American filmmaker, recorded one of 
these other representations of Italian ethnicity in her first film, True 
Love (1989). True Love explores the event of a wedding through the 
lens of Italian-Americans. It foflows the couple, Donna and Michael, 
from the planning stages of their wedding to the ceremony itself. It is 
not a plot filled with suspense: Will they get married or won't they? 
What major comic event will befuddle their plans? Instead, the film 
looks at how each character sees the marriage institution from inside 
the Italian-American world. There are no references to the Mafia, 
food is not a character, and there are no references to the "home 



The Mind's Eye 53 



Sherilyn Saporito 



country." These are the Italian- Americans outside the myth, imperfect 
and struggling to make sense of their world, just like everybody else. 

True Love is a breakout from the Italian -American stereotype used 
by popular culture. It is also a breakout from the pop-culture paradigm 
of accepted myth and variations of it, so much so that when the film 
came out, reviewers tried to squeeze it into familiar parameters, 
comparing it with movies such as Mean Streets, Married to the Mob, 
Moonstruck and other ethnic comedies (Giunta 1). The only thing these 
movies have in common is that they are about Italian -Americans. 
This blindness to the fact that Savoca made an antistereotypical film 
only proves the way in which stereotypes have infiltrated popular 
culture. Savoca also had trouble financing her movie. "People kept 
saying 'Oh, this is an Italian movie,'" she told The New York Times. 
People considered it an ethnic movie, one that would not. draw the 
crowds like the popular Italian Mafia films (Steinhauer 1). 

Italian -Americans are caught in a struggle involving their culture — 
with its traditions and norms — American culture — with its traditions 
and norms — and the way American culture views theirs. Whether 
consciously or unconsciously, these three aspects of an Italian's identity 
are internalized and play a role in his/her sell-understanding. We can 
see this struggle in Donna's character. Donna is engaged to Michael, a 
boy from the neighborhood whom, we assume, she has been dating 
lor a while. There is no talk of how or why they decided to get married, 
but it seems as if they are doing it because of other people's 
expectations of them. It is clear that neither one of them feels the 
other is a "soul mate," "the only one," or any other notion of American 
romantic love. Instead, they get married because it is time. At one 
point, after a fight with Michael, Donna questions whether or not 
she should go through with the wedding. She says if she ended it 
now, she would have to leave, move upstate, "I couldn't stay here." 
"The thick web of social roles that envelopes the Italian-American 
community makes it impossible for the characters to articulate a 
narrative desire not legitimized by the community itself" (Giunta 4). 
Donna feefs she must live by her community's cultural norms, yet 
these traditions and ways of life do not have the meaning for her that 
they do for her parents and the older generations. She is tempted to 
break these traditions, and does, such as meeting with Michael the 
night before their wedding. Another female character in the movie, 
one of Donna's friends, is a single mother of a 12-year-old girl. After 
being offered marriage by a man she is "seeing," she turns him down, 
saying, "I don't need any favors. ... I need to do this on my own." 
Again, we see the breakdown of traditions because they have lost 
their meaning and social value fnr the younger generations. 

54 The Mind's Eye 



Sketifyn SapariW 



While she avoided Ita iian -American stereotypes, Savoca did not 
give us an example of an authentic Italian character (in the Sartre 
sense of authenticity) that is comfortable with her ethnicity and its 
place in the American landscape. Instead, she gave us Donna, who in 
a legitimate way has an inauthentic identity. True Love gives Italian- 
Americans a real representation of themselves. It shows, as Richard 
Gambino describes, "a search for identity that is crippled by a lack of 
knowledge of cultural roots and a resulting absence of appreciation 
of the unique dynamics of one's own psychology" (Blood 161). Yet, 
while this is not its purpose, it does nothing to fill the void of authentic 
Italian characters in popular culture. 

There is an authentic Italian culture, with clear values, traditions 
and customs, but one is not going to find it at the movies. Unfor- 
tunately, because of the way American and popular culture work 
(emphasizing the individual and grouping "others" into stereotypical 
roles), Italian culture is fading away except among authentic Italians. 
Yet. even then, because of being-for-others, the pop-culture myth is 
threatening Italian identity. Italian- Americans live their lives knowing 
who they are and knowing how the world sees them. This double 
consciousness adds to the burden of achieving authentic identity. It is 
hard to make sense of oneself when the world is constantly telling 
you you are something you are not. 

I grew up in a small Massachusetts town, 200 miles from my closest 
family members. My father, who is second-generation Sicilian, and 
my mother, of mixed, mostly northern European background, raised 
my brother and me as American children, which is what we were. It 
was my grandmother who instilled in me my Italian identity. When 1 
was growing up, she used to say, "You are fifty percent Italian and 
fifty percent minestrone soup," but I did not know what being Italian 
meant. I had only my grandparents as models, and to me they were 
just typical old people. It was at large family gatherings, such as the 
weddings that took place a couple of times a year, that I realized my 
family was different from my friends' families. Yet I still did not know 
how to make sense of it, until I saw The Godfather. I recognized parts 
of my family in that movie: the way the characters talked, the way 
the houses looked, the food they prepared. The Godfather was my link 
to a family that I knew I was a part of but that was not a part of my 
daily life. I took everything in that movie as truth, and went as far as 
to assign the gangster aspects to my own famify, even though I knew 
Franco was actually a doctor and Uncle Gallo was a shoe-store owner. 
When I was leaving for the Bronx to attend a wedding, a funeral or a 
baptism, I would try to explain to my friends what it was like to be a 
Saporito. "You know the opening scene in The Godfather, the big 



The Mind's Eye 55 



Sherilyn Saporiia 



wedding, well, that's exactly what my family is like." Even today, as 
enlightened as 1 am about the Mafia myth, it is still my best example 
of a typical family event. This only proves the power of the Hollywood 
mythmaking machine. It confuses and blinds people in its seduction. 
It makes it nearly impossible to separate fact from fantasy. On the 
quest for identity, these movies only hinder one's search, 

So far, this article has mostly addressed Italians living in an Italian 
community, in which achieving authentic identity is a slightly easier 
task. Since ethnicity is based on group membership, a community 
provides most of ethnicity's benefits, such as support, examples of 
being and education. These Italians have some tools available for 
fighting false myths and, because they have an available community, 
they are not as threatened by inauthentic identity as Italians living in 
ethnic isolation. However, with suburbanization and exogamous 
migration, these Italian communities are rare. Some towns and cities 
have chapters of OSIA or Italian-American clubs, but it is mostly the 
older generations who frequent them. Therefore, the problem of Italian 
identity lies not in a battle between a strong minority group and media 
culture; rather, it is an individual struggle to recognize and understand 
what being Italian means in America today. This task is made more 
difficult by the media's images of inauthenticity. 

In 1973, Richard Gambino asked a group of Italian- American 
students five questions: 

1 . Do you instinctively think of yourself as Italian, American 
or Italian-American? 

2. Have you ever felt conflict between the Italian part of you 
and American demands on your nature? 

3. What particular insights, nerve endings, advantages, do 
you have from your Italian background? 

4. If there is one thing that you think you are as an Italian- 
American that you do not share with others, what is it? 

5. Name some Italian- Americans of whom you are privately 
most proud. (Blood 321) 

The students affirmatively identified themselves as being Italian, 
but they did not answer the four other questions, saying they were 
"too complicated." Gambino interpreted this, and the students agreed, 
to mean that the questions were complicated because Italians had a 
deep identity problem. 

While it could be debated that Italians are at a disadvantage 
because other groups have a strong ethnic identity, there have been 
studies that show there are positive effects of ethnic self-identification. 
In 1997, Ruben Martinez and Richard Dukes investigated the effects 

56 The Mini's Mj/e 



Sherilyn Saporito 



of ethnic identity on the social conditions of adolescents in six school 
districts throughout Colorado. They found that ethnic identity plays 
a large role in determining global self-esteem, academic confidence 
and purpose in life (Martinez 503). In a separate study, Jean Phinney 
found that "those adolescents who have explored ethnicity as a factor 
in their lives and are clear about the meaning of their ethnicity are 
likely to show better overall adjustment than those who have not 
considered their ethnicity or are unclear about it" (7). The modern 
researcher concurs with what Sartre philosophized 50 years earlier: 
Authentic identity is necessary. 

Young Italians who feel no connection to their heritage are not to 
blame. Group identification is not something one can find in isolation. 
It must be learned from family, community and the media. Some 
young Italians want to understand their history but do not know where 
to look. If they do not have authentic Italian role models to teach 
them, they will turn to the models offered by the media and adopt a 
culturat identity based on the romanticized myths of the Mafia, or 
turn away in shame at the uneducated, funny- talking, overemotional 
other model presented by the media. Perhaps the noted Italian- 
American poet Sandra Gilbert says it best when she writes, in her 
poem tilled "Mafioso": 

Frank Costello eating spaghetti in a cell at San Quentin, 

Lucky Luciano mixing up a mess of bullets and 

Calling for parmesan cheese, 

Al Capone baking a sawed-off shotgun into a 

Huge lasagna — 

Are you my uncles, my 
only uncles? (56) 

The efforts of Italian-Americans to tell their lived story, to redefine 
the image of Italians in the media and to pass on an authentic identity 
to their younger generations are being thwarted by popular culture 
and the public's demand for their beloved Mafia images. Since the 
power of the media is not one that responds to reason, it is up to 
Italians themselves to counteract these false messages and tell their 
real, authentic stories to the new generations. Only then will there be 
a chance for Italian authenticity. 



The Mind's Eye 57 



Sherityn Sapcrito 

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Sartre, Jean-Paul. Anti-Semite and Jew. Trans. George J. Becker. New 
York: Schocken, 1948. 

. Being and Nothingness. Trans, and intra. Hazel E. Barnes. New 

York: Washington Square, 1992. 

Scarface. Dir. Brian De Palma. Universal, 1983. 



58 The Mind's Eye 



Sheriiyn Saperite 



The Sopranos. Dir. David Chase. HBO, 1999. 

SLeinhauer, Jennifer. "A Director Who Films What She Knows Best." 

New York Times Dec. 28, 1997; 2,7, 
True Love. Dir. Nancy Savoca. MGM, 1990. 

VecoJi, Rudolph J. "Are Italian Americans Just White Folks?" Beyond 
the Godfather. Ed. A. Kenneth Ciongoli and Jay Parini. Hanover, 
NH; UP of New England, 1997. 



The Mind's Eye 59 



Call Me Moby 



Translated from the Whalesong 
BY MATTHEW R. S1LLIMAN 



certain Mr. Herman Melville (or mayhap his true name be 



"Ishmael," there being some confusion in his relation to his 



/ %. narrator's conceit) has penned a lengthy and rambling missive 
regarding, among many other ill-sorted subjects, the near-genocidal 
institution of whale killing, with the evident intention of making this 
barbaric practice out to be romantic, even heroic. Among the least of 
his many invidious crimes, though most irritating to this reviewer, is 
his having appropriated for the title of his murderous diatribe the 
name Moby-Dick, an appellation by which I myself am widely known, 
though his portrayal of the character so named is but barely 
recognizable even to my best friends, save for my unusual size and 
the color of my skin — and are not these line things upon which to 
presume to judge a fellow creature! For long 1 thought silence the 
noblest reply to slanders of such a preposterous sort (and from a 
member of a species that has barely gotten its feet wet besides), but 
time and the irksome persistence of the offending novel in print incline 
me finally to speak, and speak I shall. Call me Moby. 




60 The Mind's Eye 



Matthew R. Silliman 



This raconteur, spinner of tall, watery tales, and self-styled expert on 
all things upon and beneath the waves, early shows his utter ignorance 
of his subject by insisting, at great and tedious length, that whales are 
fish, misled no doubt by such benighted malapropisms as the then- 
common phrase "American Whale Fishery" (in reference to the 
aforementioned vast criminal conspiracy to genocide) and other such 
errors of language. 

Now, let me be the first to assert, protest and affirm, before the 
worfd dry and wet, that there is nothing whatever the matter with 
being a fish; it is an ancient and noble calling, if rather excessively 
scaly. [ hold no brief with fishes here or elsewhere. No, my quarrel 
with our author on this point commences, not in personal insult, but 
to a disinterested and collegial concern for such blatant imprecision 
in one who affects so scientific a perspicacity. Lest his readership be 
misled, then, let it be known from the whale's own mouth, and let it 
be known well, that I am no more a fish for my briny home than is 
Mr. Ishmael himself a Tyrannosaurus, for all that he tramp like one 
upon the land, voracious in his ignorant arrogance. "Call me Rex." 

And speaking of tyrants, what of this poor fellow Ahab? A 
murderous loon, to be sure, and no doubt deserving of some goodly 
proportion of his fate, but how befits it a decent, Christian gentleman, 
such as our author presents himself, so to share every sordid detail of 
a madman's raving with the world at large, the captain's long-suffering 
wife herself not even yet in her grave? What meanness of spirit puts 
this desperate insanity at center stage, when from the beginning the 
whole gruesome business was, after all, principally about the oil? That 
Ahab was mad there is no doubt, beyond even the norm for his race 
and time; but if megalomaniac he was, who, I must protest, was the 
mega of his low mania? 

For my own part 1 plead self-defense, and took no gargantuan 
satfsfaction or delight in the destruction of the Pequod and its crew. 
Byfloaters they were to a man, though not thereby wholly innocent. 
1 acted not in rage or from spite (as the putative lone survivor would 
have it), the magnified reflection of Ahab's obsession, but merely as 
an activist in the cause of my own kind. 1 had to come up for air 
sometime, after all, and it was they who were chasing me; 'tis a bitter 
squid then to swallow Melville's alternate and inconsistent portrayal 
of me, now as a blind force of nature (a whale's eyes are not small; it 
is only that our heads are large), or then again as a furious agent of 
cruel revenge. The net of his own cruelty he casts so wide, far beyond 
the bounds of his principal victims we whales, as to snag even the ill 
and defenseless of his own species — not to say Ahab, peg leg and all, 
could not ably have defended himself had he survived to review the 



The Mind's Eye 61 



Matthew R. Silliman 



novel on his own account. But of course he did not, which rather 
makes my point. 

Some considerable time has passed since the first publication of 
this unholy eponymous disquisition, and in the course of such time it 
has come to be thought, unaccountably, a literary classic. Classic, 
indeed!' So much the worse for literature, say I, if such scabrous libel 
as this compose its classics! Far better it had drifted in the obscure 
waters of boys' adventure tales (whence verbose and grandiloquent 
lies belong, and can do little harm not already done), as during its 
author's mortal life it did, in fact. But then, perhaps, if what is called 
"classic literature'consists chiefly of books heard of but remaining 
unread to the last (unless selected by Oprah), that may yet be this 
tome's singularly appropriate boneyard, and may it rest there in peace 
but (in the words of our author's contemporary Mr. Marx) for the 
gnawing criticism of the mice. 

South Pacific, March 2005 



'Translater's note: This is ail approximation; the author actually says "Skreee! Gluli, 
GLUE, glubr which is strictly untranslatable, expressing a unique combination o[ scorn, 
disgust, outrage and pllugg. a sentiment with no close analogue in the human emo- 
tional repertoire. 



62 The Mind s Eye 



. Contributors 



Stewart Burns, civil rights historian, served as an editor of the King 
Papers at Stanford, editing the third volume, Birth of a New Age. He 
wrote the only published history of the Montgomery bus boycott. 
Daybreak of Freedom, which was made into an award-winning HBO 
dramatic film. Boycott. His biography of King, To the Mountaintop: 
"Martin Luther King Jr.'s Mission to Save America," was published in 
January 2004 by HarperCollins, now in paperback. He serves as MCLA 
grants coordinator and visiting professor of history. 

Nick Fleck has retired from Northfield Mount Hermon School after 
40 years of teaching. In the past two years, he has had poems published 
in a number of small-press magazines, including Equinox, Pine Island 
Journal, Blueline and Connecticut River Review. White Pine Press of 
Paradise, California, has published his A Poet's Cancer Journal. 
Sauntering in the river valley and nearby hills is his great pleasure. 

David Johnson is associate professor of philosophy at Massachusetts 
College of Liberal Arts. His main areas of research are applied ethics 
and epistemology. He lives in South Deerfield, Massachusetts, with 
his wife, Kathleen, and two daughters, Sarah and Laura. 

Jeff McRae lives in southern Vermont. He teaches writing and 
literature at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. His poems have 
appeared or are forthcoming in Rattle, Phoebe, River City, Hayden 's Ferry 
Review and Pool, among others. His manuscript The Tissue Door was a 
finalist for the Alice James Books 2004 New England/New York 
Competition. 

Howard Nelson has recently edited Earth, My Likeness: "Nature Poetry 
of Walt Whitman." He is also the author of Robert Bly. "An Introduction 
to the Poetry" and editor of On the Poetry ofGalway Kinnell: "The Wages 
of Dying Is Love." 



The Mind's Eye 6i 



Annie Raskin teaches part-time in the English /Communications 
Department at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. She taught 
previously at the State University of New York at Albany, where she 
was awarded a Ph.D. in May 2004. Her doctoral thesis, a novel, The 
Less You Know, is currently seeking a publisher. She has published op- 
ed essays in The Berkshire Eagle and short stories and poetry in The 
Berkshire Review. She is working on a second novel. 

Sherilyn Saporito attended Simon's Rock College of Bard and 
Berkshire Community College before receiving a bachelor's degree in 
interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in anthropology and 
contemporary culture from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. At 
MCLA, she worked as an intern with the Massachusetts Institute of 
Contemporary Culture. Currently, Sheri is studying fur a master's 
degree in social anthropology at Goldsmiths College in London. 

Matthew R. Silliman teaches philosophy at Massachusetts College 
of Liberal Arts. He recently completed a book on moral theory titled 
Sentience and Sensibility and has a very large interest in whales. 



64 The Mind's Eye 



Mind's Eye 

Writer's Guidelines 

While emphasizing articles of scholarly merit. The Mind's Bye focuses on a general 
communication of ideas of interest to a liberal arts college. We welcome expository 
essays as well as fiction. We publish each spring. The deadline for manuscripts is 
January 15. 

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4. Use MLA style, with in-text references, as appropriate to the content and 
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6. While we will consider articles of unspecified length, preference is given to 
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9. Payment will be made in contributor's copies. 



Submit your manuscript to: 

The Mind 's Eye 
Bill Montgomery, Managing Editor 
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts 
375 Church Street 
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for queries: wmontgom®mcla.mass.edu